I had enjoyed Mark Haddon's novels, particularly A SPOT OF BOTHER, so was looking forward to his play despite the mixed to negative reviews it has received. I'm afraid the London critics are right -- despite valiant effforts from a fine cast, the play doesn't work.
How does one live with a bipolar person? The Broadway musical NEXT TO NORMAL deals with this issue powerfully. Here you just want to throw a bucket of water on Kay, who simply seems self indulgent. At one point, her brother, who also has issues, to put it mildly, tells her husband that Kay is simply seeking attention. Well, my attention started to wander. Her husband seems to love playing the put upon victim so also quickly loses the audience's sympathy despite Richard Coyle's intense performance. The play jumps around in time and levels of reality. Some scenes are fantasy, but they are the most tedious. Kay has a discussion with Jesus. Her husband, John, has an interminable dream. When Haddon can't find a dramatically viable way to show us John's breakdown, he has John delivers a long lecture (he's a philosophy profesor) tha turns into a mad scene. We know from the first scene that John kills Kay (or did he?) and has gone bonkers. By the end I wanted to kill her.
POLAR BEARS isn't just the story of the effect of a bipolar person -- it's also a cry of despair. We're supposed to see that there is no hope, no reason for faith, and that love is usually victimization. In his diatribe, John says that love is only love if one has to face disease or suffering. Psychological masochism. Such despair has been the stock in trade of modern dramatists from Strindberg to O'Neill to Albee, so there's nothing new here.
A strong group of actors bravely tried to make something of the play. As usual, I think Jamie Lloyd could have done more to clarify the play's changes of tone. On the basis of the four productions of his that I have seen, I have reservations about him as a director.
A long 90 minutes.
POLAR BEARS by Mark Haddon, directed by Jamie Lloyd. With Jodhi May, Richard Coyle, Paul Hilton and Celia Imrie. Donmar Warehouse. March 21, 2010