knows he is bonded with this man in away Piotr cannot perhaps understand. Equally, Piotr is haunted by the idea that he betrayed what was his duty to love and defend.
As they re-enact their life together in an attempt to reach a true understanding of themselves and each other, we are taken on a journey from a war-torn Poland, through the Soviet slave camps and the Middle East, into bloody combat at the battle of Monte Cassino and, finally, to post-war Scotland.
Wojtek is a rapscallion of the first order, a wayward child always up to no good, as loveable as he is comic. But he is dangerous. He is wild and a soldier subject to discipline; a soldier, like any other, who smokes, drinks and wrestles with his comrades.
Thousands turned out on the streets of Glasgow in 1946 to welcome Wojtek to Scotland as he marched behind the regimental pipes and drums. He was already a legend – “The Polish Soldier Bear” – and his love of Scottish music was to become another part of that legend during his brief sojourn in the Scottish Borders.
Wojtek died in Edinburgh Zoo in 1963. Lance Corporal Piotr Prendys, his mother, died five years later.
As our show opens, these are two spirits in search of each other, longing to re-live the good times, the madcap adventures and their comic trials and tribulations; but fearful of what they know lies in store for them as they seek love and understanding – and forgiveness.
A Playwright’s Thoughts
In the post-war Polish community in Scotland, everyone and their father (Polish mothers being fewer) knew something of the story of Wojtek. I was lucky to be schooled just over the wall from Edinburgh Zoo and grew up with Wojtek as a neighbour. He’s always been a presence in my life; and very much a growing presence in recent times.
It’s some years now since I had a conversation with Tomek Borkowy of Universal Arts about writing a play for this uncanny creature, about putting him on a stage and giving him a voice. ‘How are you going to put the bear on?’ he asked. My answer was instinctive and immediate: ‘An actor. No bear mask. No bear costume. The bear himself.’
And that is the single, most important idea around which this production has been built.
There’s no doubt the real Wojtek had “human” attributes just as there’s no doubt he follows in the footsteps of bears who mothered humans, who were often honoured and even worshipped; and who were traditionally seen as a link between humankind and its Creator throughout the Northern Hemisphere for thousands of years.
Of course a bear can speak. It would be silly to think otherwise. And if a bear speaks, tradition tells us it would be wise to listen.
Why write about Wojtek? How could you not? Wojtek was, and remains, a symbol of the Free Polish Forces and of a Free Poland which only came into being when the last Soviet combat troops pulled out on the 29th October 1992. For Poland this marked the end of World War II.
Wojtek’s been waiting in the wings for some time now and I hope I’ve done him some credit.
- Raymond Raszkowski Ross
The Director Speaks
When Raymond first mentioned Wojtek I was immediately engaged by the concept of such a close relationship between a wild bear and a Polish soldier, then the extraordinary complexities of love and friendship which further ensue between the two.
Zal is at the very core of this work: the longing, the regret, the deep joy of what once was – and the sacred essence that our characters hope is never lost – evolves through the poetry of the writing and the purity of the violin. This is the cry of the refugee, the émigré, the displaced and the forgotten. Home is not only a place, but lies within our hearts and our souls, our memories and our dreams.
There are three performers in this piece, intertwined through the musicality of text, sound and design. It has been a privilege to work this way, with a creative family of artists and be given the trust from all involved to embark upon this special journey with such a closely knit ensemble.
- Corinne Harris
James Sutherland: 'Within the first hour of a casting workshop with James in November 2011 we knew we had out bear'. We welcome James home to his native city, up from an established career in London, to create the role of Wojtek.
John McColl, a character actor of the first order and part of our ensemble, who played three roles in A Promised Land (2009/10) and the Rev Ninian Whithorn in Can You Dig the Temple Mount, Man? (2010), creates the role of Piotr.
Sue Muir, accomplished classical and jazz violinist, theatre musician and traditional fiddler, creates and plays the music and soundscape. She is the spirit of zal on our journey through war-torn Poland, Siberia, the Middle East and Italy – and wheechs up the ceilidh for Piotr and Wojtek in Scotland.
Set and Lighting Design
Scott Anderson, one of Scotland’s leading production artists, designed and built the football pitch/living room set for Raymond’s first show The Beautiful Gemme (1989, 1990, 1993), and for his show We Are The Hibees! (King’s Theatre Edinburgh, 1996). The master craftsman now meets the Bear.
Notes to Editors:
Wojtek the Bear opens at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, 43-45 High Street, Edinburgh EH1 1SR on Wednesday 6th June at 7:30pm and runs until Saturday 9th June (Sat matinee 3:00pm).
To arrange press tickets contact Lindsay Corr at the Storytelling Centre on:
0131 652 3272 | 07853 352 741 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Playwright: Raymond Raszkowski Ross, on:
0131 229 4730 | 07851 943 594 | email@example.com Director of the Scottish Storytelling Centre: Donald Smith, on:
0131 652 3271 | firstname.lastname@example.org www.theatreobjektiv.co.uk www.scottishstorytellingcentre.co.uk