Bear*** (Old Red Lion Theatre, 31 January 2014)

Posted: February 1, 2014 in Theatre

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com

Starting with Mr and Ms Ordinary juggling clementines and toying with each other on the orange sofa of their untidy London flat, we see images of a blissful young world into which nothing nasty would ever be likely to intrude. And then the couple discover that the woman is about to give birth to a grizzly bear. Andy McNamee’s new 70-minute one act play quite enjoys confounding expectations. No biological explanations are offered to the couple or to us, but it hardly matters as we seem to be on course for a surreal light comedy in which logic will play no part. In mimed sequences of everyday routines, the characters appear as if caged chimps enjoying their tea party and, when audience members are given a hand-held microphone to read scene- setting passages, the whole production, backed by irritating, repetitive tunes, takes on the feel of a show for children. Yet themes of a very adult nature are lurking beneath the surface. Of course, the story is an allegory, but, in the early comic stages, it is a clumsy and obvious one. However, the comedy is a clever and purposeful deception. By telling the story a pace away from reality, the writer is able to explore the terrifying challenges of parenting an abnormal offspring and to go into territory that could otherwise be too harrowing. After the birth, the couple become social outcasts and a media freak show; they are torn apart by conflicting emotions and faced with stark choices, including infanticide. At the beginning, Anna Wheatley and Michael Gilhooly have a thankless task in trying to extract humour from ordinariness, but the smooth, almost imperceptible transition from comedy to high drama succeeds largely because of their skill and their performances grow in strength as the play progresses towards a moving conclusion. Playing with theatrical forms, Bear is innovative, imaginative and thought provoking, making it most of the things that a fringe theatre production ought to be.

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