Wojtek story to hit the stage in Edinburgh

Polish bear Wotjek

Polish bear Wotjek

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NOT content with having various books; a TV documentary and an exhibition in his honour, famous soldier bear Wojtek is now the subject of a play which opens for a four night run in Edinburgh on Wednesday.

Wojtek is of course known in Berwickshire and much further afield from coming to these parts with the Polish army during the Second World War, making a name for himself for being so tactile with those he came into contact with and making a splash in more ways than one when he took a trip to Berwick for a swim in the sea!

It’s the bear’s relationship with one of the troops, Piotr Prendys which provides ‘Wojtek The Bear’, written by Raymond Raszkowski Ross and directed by Corinne Harris, with its main focus.

Wojtek died in Edinburgh Zoo in 1963 with Lance Corporal Prendys following five years later.

‘Wojtek The Bear’ opens with the two spirits in search of each other, longing to re-live the good times, the madcap adventures and their comic trials and tribulations.

As they re-enact their life together, the plot follows them on their 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.

And Raymond said Wojtek’s story was one that needed to be shared. “Why write about Wojtek? How could you not?” he commented.

“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 October 29 1992.

“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 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?’ one person 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.”

‘Wojtek the Bear’ opens at Edinburgh’s Scottish Storytelling Centre on Wednesday, June 6 and runs until Saturday, June 9.