The Antartctic Blizzard Coming Our Way

Article excerpt

Byline: SARA WHEELER

ANYONE sceptical about the suggestion that cold is the new hot only has to glance at the capital's cultural schedule. This autumn, Londoners can enjoy a West End play called Antarctica; an Imax film on explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton; a major polar exhibition at the National Maritime Museum that has just been extended for four months; and a fresh crop of Antarctic books. A new Antarctic symphony was recently premiered at the Royal Festival Hall, and on Tuesday Christie's held a record-breaking sale of polar memorabilia. (A tin containing the remains of one of Shackleton's last biscuits reached [pound]7,637.) And it won't be over by Christmas: both the BBC and Channel 4 have important Antarctic programmes in the pipeline. Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure, a 45-minute Imax extravaganza, is probably the highlight of this prolonged icefest.

The movie tells the story of the expedition which set sail in 1914 with ambitious plans to march the whole way across the Antarctic continent. But Shackleton's ship, Endurance, was crushed in the pincers of a floe before the marching began, and the Boss, as he was known, led his men to safety in a triumph of survival that stands alone even in the frosty annals of polar hardship.

This scintillating American-made film, which will open on 18 October at the bfi London Imax cinema at Waterloo, incorporates original footage shot under perilous circumstances by expedition photographer Frank Hurley.

Meanwhile, over at Channel 4 a starry team headed by Charles Sturridge of Brideshead fame is producing a new miniseries that repeats the Endurance saga. Kenneth Branagh plays the great man, and transmission is scheduled for early in the New Year.

To my mind, award-winning Canadian playwright David Young has found a more beguiling Antarctic subject, even if only because it is unknown outside polar circles.

Young bases his play around a little-known sidebar to Scott's doomed second expedition.

A team of six, led by Old Etonian Victor Campbell, a naval lieutenant, went off to geologise in an unknown region of the Antarctic several hundred miles from the main expedition hut at Cape Evans. After a reasonably successful year, poor ice conditions meant the ship was unable to relieve them, so they were obliged to spend the winter in an ice cave on Inexpressible Island (it was they who named it). The cave was 9ft by 12, and 5ft 6in high, which meant they could never stand upright.

They had nothing to eat except seal and were unable to wash or change their clothes for eight months. Campbell even got his penis frostbitten. "The road to hell might be paved with good intentions," wrote George Murray Levick, the team doctor, "but it seemed probable that hell itself would be paved something after the style of Inexpressible Island." Young's Antarctica, a smash hit in Toronto in 1998, receives its British premiere at the Savoy Theatre on 9 October.

As for the books: Michael Smith's gripping biography of Tom Crean appeared from Hodder Headline this month. …