Media Release: The Last Polar Bears – an experiment in carbon-lite theatre

National Theatre of Scotland presents


Adapted by Joe Douglas from the novel by Harry Horse

Directed by Joe Douglas

An experiment in carbon-lite theatre

Touring Primary Schools in Scotland from 8 May 2012

Press performance on 10 May 2012 at 1.45 at Sorn Village Hall, East Ayrshire

Cast: Tam Dean Burn, Joyce Falconer, Ross McKay | designer: Thomasin Marshall

THE National Theatre of Scotland is premiering The Last Polar Bears by Harry Horse, an environmental adventure story, by the award-winning writer and illustrator.

The Last Polar Bears is also a live-art project, the company’s first foray into carbon-lite theatre and the National Theatre of Scotland’s first tour to primary schools.

Harry Horse’s The Last Polar Bears tells the story of an old man and his dog – Roo – on a quest to the North Pole to see the polar bears before all the ice melts.

Horse tells the story through letters to his grandchild who’s been left behind at home.

The company is undertaking the four week tour on bicycles, visiting primary schools in Ayrshire, Dumfries and Galloway, the Borders, East Lothian and Edinburgh.

The role of Grandfather is being played by leading Scottish actor Tam Dean Burn, Roo by theatremaker and puppeteer Ross McKay, and all other parts by popular TV and stage actress Joyce Falconer.

The play is performed in the natural light of school halls using puppetry and live music.

The cast and crew are cycling the three hundred mile round trip to venues, on custom-built bikes for the duration of the tour.

The bicycles are made from reclaimed materials by Glasgow’s Bike Station and funded by Mackie’s of Scotland.

The cast will carry all costumes, set, props and personal belongings on their bikes throughout the tour.

There will be no support vehicles.

The bespoke vinyl bike bags, created by another Scottish company, Trakke, are made from recycled National Theatre of Scotland pull-up banners.

The bikes are being sponsored by the popular food product company, Mackie’s, a fourth-generation family business making ice cream and other products on their farm in Aberdeenshire.

Managing director Mac Mackie, said: “We are delighted to be involved, it’s a great, moving story and I am looking forward to seeing it brought alive by Joe Douglas and the National Theatre of Scotland. Serious issues like climate change can be served well when introduced to young people with a fun element like this carbon light trip.”

The National Theatre of Scotland is delighted to have Mackie’s on board for the tour. Mackie’s is a carbon neutral Company as well as being celebrated makers of ice cream, Roo’s favourite food.

Mackie’s will also be providing a free fact book about Polar Bears to all Primary School children attending the show as well as providing free ice cream vouchers and online offers.



There will be two open rehearsal performances of The Last Polar Bears at the National Theatre of Scotland’s rehearsal space at the Glue Factory, as part of Speirs Locks Unlocked open day on Saturday 28th April. This free-to-attend family event invites local people to explore the headquarters and the work of Scotland’s leading national theatre and arts organisations, including the National Theatre of Scotland, Scottish Opera and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

The two performances will take place from 12-1pm and 2-3pm. Tickets are free and will be allocated on a first-come-first-served basis to Speirs Locks Unlocked visitors on the day. All young audience members will receive a free Mackie’s ice cream.

Press are invited to attend the Opening Performance of The Last Polar Bears on 10 May 2012 at 1.45 at Sorn Village Hall, East Ayrshire.

Please do contact Jo Lennie with regards to travel arrangements.

The performers have been preparing themselves physically for the tour and are undergoing rigorous fitness training on exercise bikes in the rehearsal room with longer weekly bike rides on roads, to build stamina. They have been learning about bike maintenance, communication while cycling in groups and road safety.

Joining The Last Polar Bears Director, Joe Douglas, on tour, is an On-the-Road-Producer and Bike Captain, Colin Clark. Colin will be documenting the journey using an on-bike camera and, with the help of GPS, viewers will be able to monitor The Last Polar Bears daily progress on the National Theatre of Scotland website.

On tour, the play is followed by a workshop for pupils; exploring the production, issues of climate change and cycling. As part of the production’s legacy towards climate change and to safeguard the future of polar bears, the National Theatre of Scotland will adopt 17 Svalbard Polar Bears with the World Wildlife Fund to give to each of the primary schools on The Last Polar Bears tour.

The Last Polar Bears is directed by Joe Douglas, a freelance director and theatre-maker. He was trainee director for the National Theatre of Scotland (2007 to 2008) and directed Our Teacher’s a Troll for the Company. Joe makes work with and for young people and The Last Polar Bears will be a continuation of this work, as well as the result of his research into climate change.

Harry Horse was a writer of children’s books, an artist of political cartoons and a musician whose influence lives on in the Scottish folk punk scene. His best-known books were the six telling the adventures of Roo the dog. The first in the series, The Last Polar Bears, tells the story of Grandfather and Roo’s trip to the North Pole to see a polar bear in the wild after they’re saddened by seeing one in captivity.

The book sold over a million copies worldwide and was made into an animated film starring Nigel Hawthorne as Grandfather. Harry also wrote the Little Rabbit series of books for younger readers. His first book, The Ogopogo: My Journey With The Loch Ness Monster, was published in 1983 and became the first children’s book to win the Scottish Arts Council award.

Joe Douglas says:

“I have no idea, really, what the challenges will be in touring a show like this.  After reading a lot of books about our changing climate, I just wanted to find a way of making theatre that really engaged with Mother Nature in Scotland, rather than just driving over her in a car.  The Last Polar Bears – at its heart – is about a seemingly impossible quest and having the strength to carry on. Like the Grandfather in the story who sets off to the North Pole, I’m a bit scared – I don’t even really know if it’s possible but I feel like it’s important to try. And hopefully I’ll have really good calves by the end too.”

The National Theatre of Scotland is committed to ensuring that the company is run in an environmentally-friendly and sustainable manner. Each year, it is the company’s ambition to create more work and engage with larger audiences without growing their carbon footprint.

The company’s environmental policy can be read here:

The Last Polar Bears Tour 2012

Tuesday, 8 May                                Crosshouse Primary, Kilmarnock

Wednesday, 9 May                         St Sophia’s Primary, Galston

Thursday, 10 May 2012                  Sorn Primary (in Sorn Village Hall), Sorn

Friday, 11 May 2012                        Barshare Primary, Cumnock

Monday, 14 May 2012                    Sanquhar Primary, Sanquhar

Tuesday, 15 May 2012                    Wallace Hall Primary, Thornhill

Thursday, 17 May 2012                  Georgetown Primary, Dumfries

Friday, 18 May 2012                        Lockerbie Primary, Lockerbie

Monday, 21 May 2012                    Langholm Primary, Langholm

Wednesday, 23 May 2012            Trinity Primary, Hawick

Thursday, 24 May 2012                  Howdenburn Primary School, Jedburgh

Friday, 25 May 2012                        Edenside Primary School, Kelso

Monday, 28 May 2012                    Coldstream Primary School, Coldstream

The Last Polar Bears will be touring until 1 June and the final performance will be in a Primary School in Edinburgh.  Please visit the website for the full itinerary.

Audiences can follow the journey of the Last Polar Bear’s company at


Tam Dean Burn was seen most recently in Steven Spielberg’s film version of Warhorse and the Scottish short film Death In A Nut, directed by Tom Chick. He recently recorded the unabridged audiobook of Skagboys, the new novel by Irvine Welsh. He is forthcoming in the television horror series Bedlam and Scottish feature film Shell, directed by Scott Graham. Tam will be performing Robert Burns and Harold Pinter anti-war poetry for the National Theatre of Scotland Five Minute Theatre’s Protest on May 1. Following on from Year of the Horse, Tam is creating and performing a new mix of Harry Horse’s Sunday Herald political cartoons for Neu! Reekie on April 27 with Optimo’s JDTwitch.

Joyce Falconer was raised in Aberdeen and trained at Glasgow’s RSAMD. She has worked extensively throughout Scotland in all genres of theatre from Shakespeare at the Citizens Theatre to pantomime at the Pavilion. She appeared in Mary Queen of Scots Got her Head Chopped Off and Our Teacher’s a Troll for the National Theatre of Scotland. Joyce is best known for her former role as ‘Roisin’ in BBC Scotland’s River City. She writes and performs her own one-woman material and recently performed the songs of Kurt Weill in cabaret at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow. 

Ross MacKay is an emerging director and puppeteer. He is currently an Artist on Attachment with the National Theatre of Scotland and was most recently an assistant director on their production of A Christmas Carol. He is also artistic director of Tortoise in a Nutshell whose production, The Last Miner is the first UK production to ever be shortlisted for the Grunshnabel Award, a European award for visual theatre. The company is currently developing Grit for this year’s Fringe. Ross can’t wait to get on a bike and see if he can beat his lifetime record of a 16-second wheelie!

Thomasin Marshall is a set and costume designer who has firsthand experience of carbon-lite touring. She previously toured the Highlands of Scotland, on a bicycle, with a theatre in education show. She gained a first class Honours degree at Rose Bruford College and went on to train at the Motley Theatre Design Course. Recent productions include:  Knives in Hens (Theatre by the Lake); The Snow Queen (Rose Theatre Kingston) Bunnies (Bikeshed Theatre, Exeter); Freehouse (Michael Frayne Space, Hampstead Theatre); The Knowledge (assistant designer, Bush Theatre); Little Platoons (assistant designer, Bush Theatre); Serendip (Bikeshed Theatre); Henry IV Part One (Drum Theatre, Plymouth); The Misanthrope (Drum Theatre, Plymouth); Hamlet (IYAF festival, Rose Theatre, Kingston)


Press contacts:

Jo Lennie – Freelance Publicist/ 07708980918/

Emma Schad – Press Manager – 0141 227 9016/

Press Images:

There is a selection of images for current productions available for download from – please contact the press office for a password

You can follow the National Theatre of Scotland’s press office on Twitter @NTS_press

For twitter conversation about the production please follow #lastpolarbears

Notes to Editors:

  1. The National Theatre of Scotland is supported by the Scottish Government. Since its launch in February 2006, the National Theatre of Scotland has been involved in creating over 160 productions in 125 different locations. With no building of its own, the company takes theatre all over Scotland and beyond, working with existing and new venues and companies to create and tour theatre of the highest quality. It takes place in the great buildings of Scotland, but also in site-specific locations, airports and tower blocks, community halls and drill halls, ferries and forests. The company has performed to over 710,000 people, across three continents.
  1. Mackie’s of Scotland began making ice cream on their farm in Aberdeenshire in 1986. Now 70 staff and 500 cows work in a ‘sky to scoop” design chain. Mackie’s vision is to “create a global brand from the greenest company in Britain created by people having fun“. Their wind turbines generate power and they grow crops to feed the cows to produce the fresh milk and cream they need to make ice cream. Mackie’s also make their own tubs on site- avoiding many thousands of miles in transport. Mackie’s of Scotland have their own renewable energy supply- with three turbines  of 2.5 MW capacity and a further solar panel installation with 50kW. Mackie’s use roughly 40 per cent of the wind energy generated and export the rest to the grid – to the UK’s only 100 per cent renewable energy supplier, Good Energy. Mackie’s was awarded The Green Award for Renewable Energy Development 2010 at the Food and Farming Awards at House of Commons in recognition of the fact that Mackie’s is a carbon neutral business utilising wind turbines, planting trees and having zero water waste. Mackie’s chair, Maitland Mackie, is an enthusiastic proponent of wind energy and was awarded a lifetime achievement award in this year’s environmental VIBES awards.

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Contact: Emma Schad
Phone: 0141 227 9016