City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Wojtek the Bear Review

By Bill Dunlop - Posted on 07 August 2012

Sue Muir, James Sutherland (Wojtek) and John McColl in Wojtek the bear
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Theatre Objektiv
Running time: 
Raymond Raszkowski Ross (writer), Corinne Harris (director and musical director), Scott Anderson (set and lighting design)
James Sutherland (Wojtek), John McColl (Lane Corporal Piotr Prendys), Sue Muir (musician)

For those of a certain generation and set of experiences, both in Edinburgh and beyond, Wojtek the ‘Polish’ bear evokes particular memories.

In Theatre Objektiv’s production, Wojtek finds his voice, for here the bear becomes a man and in James Sutherland’s characterisation, a man becomes as near a bear as it may be possible to be.

Ross’s script takes a chronological tour of Wojtek’s strange and colourful past as a mascot – but something more than a mascot – of the Polish 2nd Corps during World War Two.

Found and adopted in Central Asia when what was to become a fighting unit were permitted to leave Soviet confinement, Wojtek became the special charge of Lance Corporal Piotr Prendys. The Corps moved from Palestine to become part of the allied forces in Italy and Wojtek with them. His role in carrying shells to the guns at the battle of Monte Cassino remains disputed, but undeniably firmly believed by some of those who took part.

Wojtek shared the fate of many former Polish soldiers who chose to remain in the U.K. while their native country shared the fate of other European states under Stalinism. Separated from his former comrades, Wojtek became a much-loved attraction at Edinburgh Zoo, still enjoying the beers and cigarettes offered by those who recalled his former life-style, and (if bears speculate) trying to make some sense of his past experience and present situation, and perhaps feeling as lost and isolated as many of the soldiers who had been his companions for so long.  

Never mind the potted history (and it is very potted), does the theatre work? Sometimes, yes. Sutherland’s Wojtek has moments of magnificence that touch and tear at the heart, and he and John McColl work beautifully together. What works less well, at least for this reviewer, is a tendency to anthropomorphise Wojtek, who seems to become both too human and too Polish too fast.

This, of course, is partly the problem with a big story confined to the strictures of the stage. Like Wojtek himself, the play feels as if it paces the stage, anxiously seeking a larger environment.

In many respects this is a very brave play, and the entire company deserve a salute for tackling the several themes it contains with the courage they bring to it, but this reviewer headed out into the evening sunshine muttering ‘Mair Bear’.  


Daily til 26 August (not 14), 4.30pm


2-3, 4-5, 11-12, 18-19, 25-26 - £12 (£10)

6-10, 13, 15-1, 20-24 - £11 (£9)

A great story, with unhappy ending it would seem. Pity they didnt let the bear part play more of a bear. It's always impressed me when an actor captures the movement and physicality of another species on stage.