Orange Polar Bear, a raw, funny and heartrending new play about today’s younger generation trying to find their place in a fast-changing world has its UK premiere at Birmingham Repertory Theatre from 1 – 10 November.
Co-written by Korean writer, Sun-Duck Ko and London-based Canadian playwright, Evan Placey, this bilingual original play is an international collaboration between The REP, the National Theater Company of Korea and Birmingham company, Hanyong Theatre. Inventively staged, and pulsating with energy, Orange Polar Bear will be performed by an ensemble of 3 British and 3 Korean actors.
William and Jiyoung are fifteen, living invisible lives in chaotic cities on opposite sides of the world. William is British and lives with his mum – a Nigerian immigrant who cleans up after other people who can’t be bothered to do their own hoovering. She doesn’t understand why people want to flee the country, but William does. Jiyoung is Korean, stuck with her dad and grandma in a fifteenth floor flat, and looking for her mother who left thirteen years ago. When the two find themselves adrift in a mysterious space, floating like two polar bears on melting icebergs, they wonder if they’ll ever make it back.
Director Peter Wynne-Willson said: “Despite a distance of over 5000 miles, younger generations in Korea and the UK are subjected to the same relentlessly bleak 24/7 news cycle. They share concerns about climate change, threats to national security, a widening gap between the rich and poor, as well as domestic issues that concern us all – family and friendship, just as they are forging new identities as young adults.
“It’s been wonderful to see how our two writers and our international creative team and cast have worked together to tell a story that crosses boundaries and, while firmly rooted in the contrasting cultures of Britain and Korea, could be played on a stage anywhere in the world and still have relevance.”
Playwright, Evan Placey, said: “The world feels like it’s ending, the future bleak, when you are bombarded by the news on so many sides. How do you deal with this as a young person? When adults are making decisions which will affect your future, and you’re constantly being told things are getting worse – for the environment, for safety, politically, financially – how do you remain optimistic and engage with the present? Inspired by the passions and worries of teenagers we met and worked with in Seoul and Birmingham, Orange Polar Bear explores that question in a theatrical way through the intertwined stories of our characters William and Jiyoung.”
Producer, Judy Owen said: “Orange Polar Bear is a story about separation and connection on many levels, which couldn’t be more urgent in a world where so many are uprooted. At a time when countries are becoming ever more insular, Orange Polar Bear is determinedly outward looking. Our extraordinary Korean actors and talented, young British actors perform together as one ensemble to tell a story that is clear and resonates emotionally in surprising ways.”
Orange Polar Bear is an exciting collaboration with one of South East Asia’s leading contemporary theatre companies, the National Theater Company of Korea. Performed in English and Korean, the production features powerful visuals and sound design, with design by award-winning young art director Yeo Shin Dong and original music by internationally renowned composer Yeong Gyu Jang, known for his many film scores (Train to Busan; The Good the Bad, the Weird; A Bittersweet Life) and for his glam rock Korean folk fusion band Ssing Ssing, who recently performed in Soho and at the South Bank Centre.
The cast for Orange Polar Bear is: Ah-ron Hong (Father), Cheongim Kang (Grandmother), Minju Kim (Jiyoung), Michael Kodwiw (Arthur), Rasaq Kukoyi (William), Tahirah Sharif (Sarah).
Orange Polar Bear is designed by Shin-Dong Yeo with costume design by Nuri Na and Kay Wilton, lighting design by Simon Bond, sound design by Lim Seo Jin, music composed by Yeong-Gyu Jang, props design by Kwon Min-Hee, movement by Yun Jung Lee and video projection by Shin Dong Yeo and Byung Mok Jung. Tessa Walker, The REP’s Associate Director, has supported the writers as dramaturg.
Orange Polar Bear is the third collaboration between The REP and Hanyong Theatre following the presentation of The Bridge a bi-lingual piece about the Korean war co-written by Ko Sun-Duck and Peter Wynne-Willson, and Looking For Yoghurt a play in 3 languages (English, Korean and Japanese) for young audiences and families co-produced with Joyful Theatre (Korea) and Kijimuna Festa (Japan). The project forms an important strand of the REP’s international work, including productions directed by Calixto Bieito (Hamlet, Celestina and The String Quartet’s Guide To Sex and Anxiety), the partnership with BE FESTIVAL – an annual festival of European performing arts, and a co-production with Teatro Kismet in Bari, Italy of Philip Pullman’s I Was A Rat!
As part of the international collaboration on 7 November The REP hosts a symposium, Making Multilingual Theatre. A full day of panel discussions and demonstrations exploring experiences of multilingual theatre and a chance to meet the cast and creatives of Orange Polar Bear and hear in detail about the making of the show. The symposium is co-convened by the multilingual performance project Creative Multilingualism (University of Oxford) and Royal Birmingham Conservatoire (Birmingham City University).