Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre review: Wojtek: The Happy Warrior, reviewed by The Scotsman’s Billy Barrett.
Remarkably, Quarter Too’s devised-theatre piece is one of two productions at this year’s festival telling the – even more remarkable – true story of a bear taken in by a Polish army platoon during the Second World War. Syrian brown bear Wojtek, whose name means “Happy Warrior”, joined the soldiers as a young mascot, then grew to be accepted as “one of the men” – partaking in both the barracks banter and the horrors of conflict. After living out his years at Edinburgh Zoo, Wojtek is venerated as a Polish war hero.
The cast combine narration with playful physicality and joyfully imaginative use of props to tell the story. Sharing the role of Wojtek between them, they switch between crawling bears and battle-ready soldiers – demonstrating a brilliant esprit de corps themselves as a performing ensemble.
The family friendly fun of the show does mean it’s a sentimentalised and sanitised account – it insists on the importance of remembrance rather than trying to actually capture the brutality and waste of war (or indeed, the undoubtable distress that a chained-up bear would have felt being subjected to such conditions) but it works as a sweet and affectionate take on an unfamiliar chapter of European history.
New Town Theatre (Venue 7) until 30 August / listings
Published in The Scotsman on 27 August 2015
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