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March 6, 2006 | by  | in Theatre |
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Arctic-Antarctic is a beautifully dark and intense wee play. It explores the battle between Ellen and Yellow and their various mental diseases which are personified in by the cynical narrator/character Gumball Gary. The two women live with and are cared for by Ellen’s husband Steve who, although he loves her, has his patience pushed to the brink by his wife’s Bipolar Affective Disorder.

The script of Arctic-Antarctic is both intelligent and inspired but above all else is very real. It gives the audience a strong feeling for what goes on within a mind that is affected by mental illness. While delivering the script the two women do everything from courageously battling their demons, both with and without the help of medication, to falling into the trap of being overly at ease with their condition – letting their illness comfort them and make them feel safe. This is carried out with clarity and emotive astuteness by the author, Charlotte Simmonds, who bases much of Arctic-Antarctic on her own experiences of mental illness.

Simmonds also performs the character of Yellow, the younger of the two women, in the play. Her performance is excellent – a believable combination of the sweet young woman that she appears to be and another darker self that is much harder to define. For example, her character is haunted by a troupe of homicidal circus monkey’s. No one believes her and she is dismissed as a loon, yet Simmond’s performance forces the audience to awaken to the reality, at least for her, of what goes on in her mind. Her character also uses beautifully comic self-deprecating humour to enlighten the audience to her darker side alluding to her alcoholism by sardonically joking about a variety of cocktails she has made for herself, such as a mentholated spirits based martini.

The intelligence that begins with the script and Simmonds is followed through by both talented and empathetic acting from the rest of the cast. In performing the role of Ellen, Yellow’s partner in crime if you will, Donna Muir’s acting is sublime. She is highly believable in her role as the neurotic and obsessive bipolar character, fixating on her past as an Opera singer, dead actresses and the dolphins that appear in the TV. The character of Steven, Ellen’s embattled husband, is played by Michael Ness. While ‘sane’, at least on the surface, he too lives a tortured existence, well aware that the two women who he minds and loves are literally driving him crazy and stripping him of his ability to coexist with other ‘sane’ people and the ability to operate in the normal world. In his second role as a parasite, Alex Grieg performed absolutely brilliantly. He delivered an excellent sardonic and unwanted commentary on the girls’ lives, interacting with them and seducing them and in the end attempting to destroy them. I am beginning to love to hate the characters which this man inhabits.

Arctic-Antarctic is not a play that is enjoyable by any stretch. While it has brilliantly comic ‘in-joke’ moments (that I believe the majority of the audience, including myself, did not fully get) its strength is in the fact that it is a dark and emotionally truthful view into something very few people attempt or even want to understand.

A Bipolar Play
By Charlotte Simmonds
Directed by David Lawrence
BATS 20 – 23 February

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About the Author ()

HAILING FROM the upper-middle- class hell of Havelock North, Jules is in the final semester of a bachelor’s degree in Trenchermanship (majoring in Gourmandry), is a self-professed Anarcho-Dandy and resides in the Aro Valley. He likes to spend his days pursuing whimsical follies of every sort and his evenings gallivanting through the bars and restaurants of Wellington in search of the perfect wine list. He has unfailingly dedicated his life to the excessive consumption of food and drink (despite having no discernable way of paying for it), and expects to die of simultaneous heart and kidney failure at thirty-nine. His only hope is that very soon people will start to pay him for his opinions (of which he is endowed with aplenty). Jules has a penchant for vintage Oloroso.

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