“Today ladies and gentlemen we will begin our performance with a sad and slightly mournful song.” This is delivered with smiles, hinting at both the tragedy and comedy to come.
We are attending a university conference on the famous psychiatric case of Mathilde, who has adhered to her apparent delusions for more than 30 years. She is the sister of Salomon, the pioneering explorer, whom in 1897 set off in an untested hydrogen balloon in an attempt to reach the North Pole.
She seems to have fractured memories of those events, seeing nothing but snow and ice but plucking odd items, such as a picture of The King of Sweden from the peculiar provisioning. When you freeze, what will be the last thing, she ponders – the heart; the brain … the elbow?
To the doctors the brain is unknown, like the Arctic, thinking that she suffers from hallucinations. “It all began with a butter dish!” she announces before telling of first meeting her fiancé, Nils and somewhat reluctantly falling for him while bonding over Darwinian Theory and the life cycle of the Arctic Fox.
Nils has been pulled into Solomon’s obsessive and optimistic strategy to become national heroes. It’s a plan that omits her as the public will not accept a female explorer and she is replaced with the potentially inept, but male, Knut.
When they set off her heart freezes for the very first time and we perceive through her eyes the fateful journey. Will she always see them?
The inventively told story is a visual pleasure, utilising a sea of white balloon silk as a backdrop for puppetry and their highly physical style. The humour moves from manic to stiff-upper-lip deadpan (beneath impressive moustaches), although the clowning could be moved onto still thinner ice. The audience interaction largely works, but the raising of the house lights melts the magic. The play is impressive at its quieter moments; none more so than the transformative and wonderfully touching end.
A beautiful, ingenious and warm-hearted theatrical journey.
Show Times: 31 July to 25 (not 13, 19) August 2019 at 12.30pm.
Tickets: £10 (£9) to £12 (£11).