The story of Polar Night unfolds in the living room of a house far from any town in northern Europe.
We meet Ulf (Jack Walsh) and Helen (Noelle Brown) who are moments later joined by Rose (Myrn Devaney), Helen’s daughter who she hasn’t seen in ten years.
From the beginning, there is the background noise of a persistent chilling wind and lights, by Ciaran Gallagher, on stage effectively bring us into their freezing surroundings to the point where we can almost feel the warmth of their fire and the bite of the outside winds.
Helen is terminally ill and this is the first time that Rose and Ulf are meeting, so emotions are running high for these characters. A number of short scenes, all set in the living room, explore the complexity of the characters’ relationship with each other. Helen, although wanting to hear news from the last ten years about her children, is apathetic towards others, in part due to her condition, but also due to her selfish characteristics.
While many portrayals exist of mothers trying to do what is best for their children, this mother-figure is far more nuanced as she is someone who was deeply unhappy not only in her marriage but also as a mother, unable to sacrifice her life for her children.
Sympathy can easily be found for Rose, who was left with many parenting responsibilities for her much younger brother, and her anger at Helen is understandable, but Helen’s story is one that is also deserving of sympathy. Through her, we look at the problematic social expectations of marrying and having children. Despite the characters’ history and the tension that their situation brings, love is present in the piece.
The New Theatre has a nice stage for a small space, and Polar Night fits well onto the stage, but the entrances and exits feel laboured in such a small space. An admirable performance is given by the cast, each of whom convey well their belief to exist independently of each other without fully realising the support they require from one another.
by Sarah McKenna Barry