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The Warsaw Voice » Stage & Screen » October 31, 2013
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Tale of Wojtek, the Soldier Bear
October 31, 2013   
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Warsaw’s Imka Theater is one of the few theaters in Poland that stage English-language plays. Theatre Objektiv, a Scottish company based in Edinburgh, is putting on a production entitled Wojtek the Bear, produced in association with The English Theater Company. The play, written by Raymond Roszkowski Ross and directed by Corrine Harris, is an inspiring story about war and peace.

When Theatre Objektiv piloted the first ever play about Wojtek, the Polish “soldier bear,” at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in June last year, the event made the front pages of two newspapers in Poland and the sell-out performances were met with numerous curtain calls and two standing ovations.

Wojtek was not simply a famous bear who was adopted as a cub by an army corporal and his comrades, who traveled with them through the Middle East and fought at the Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy during World War II; he was also a universal symbol of freedom and an ambassador of goodwill for the Free Polish Forces in postwar Scotland.

Thousands of people lined the streets of Glasgow to welcome Wojtek when he disembarked with Polish troops from Italy in September 1947. His presence at the Polish Resettlement Camp at Winfield in Berwickshire drew many Scottish people to visit the camp and make friends with the Polish soldiers stationed there. He became a star attraction at local dances (he loved Scottish fiddle music), helping the Poles interact with their Scottish neighbors and to diffuse any latent racism or sectarianism.

When the camp broke up and the Poles were scattered throughout Britain looking for employment and a new life in exile, Wojtek was placed in Edinburgh Zoo, where he was once again a star attraction and where in captivity he remained a symbol of Poland—a country in captivity behind the Iron Curtain.

Wojtek, who died in 1963, was a bear with human attributes; a bear who drank beer and vodka; a bear who loved to wrestle and who let children clamber on his back; a bear who swayed and tapped along to music; a bear who carried shells in battle and logs and lumber in peace; a bear who cried for his human “mother” and who comforted Polish soldiers when bad news came.

If anything, his universal appeal grows by the day. A Facebook page run from Cracow (Wojtek the Soldier Bear) has over 2,000 friends worldwide; and newspaper articles across the globe, along with books and a recent BBC documentary, attest to his growing popularity.

Wojtek the Bear
Imka Theater; Warsaw, 6 Marii Konopnickiej St.
Performances: Nov. 8, 7 p.m., Nov. 9, 6 p.m., Nov. 10, 6 p.m., Nov. 11, 6 p.m., Nov. 12, 7 p.m., Nov. 13, 7 p.m.
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