Brighton Festival 2013
Angela Clerkin in her co-production with Improbable and Oval House, directed by Improbable’s Lee Simpson, begins by telling us that she will play herself and that Guy (Dartnell) will play everything else, which raises a chuckle. ‘Who will play the bear?’ asks Guy. ‘I don’t know’, replies Angela, ‘whoever fits the costume’. It turns out they share being ‘the bear’ in various incarnations, but this playful tone, the sense of the performers gently undermining each other, ‘bear-bating’ in fact, continues throughout.
A playful jaunt set around an fictional murder that teases us with the noir-thriller genre and ultimately tells a story of something much closer to home.
The conceit is that ‘Angela’, an out of work actress, takes a job as a legal clerk on a murder case where the defendant claims that it wasn’t him that killed his wife, but ‘the bear’. And although it makes no sense and against her better judgment, Angela is sparked by something that wont let her go (including enjoying the idea of herself as a noir style heroine from some gum shoe detective novel) and she is compelled to investigate further. It turns out there is indeed a bear, just not in the place we expect.
The action takes place inside and outside of a mini set with-in-the-set that is mounted on wheels and is manoeuvred around to function in various ways. It serves as a convenient home for all the action within the ‘play’ whilst most of the meta-theatrical material sits outside the set. For me it reproduced the play within the play idea a little too literally and I found myself questioning its necessity. It provided a place for the actors to get changed behind and facilitated some lovely lighting effects through the ribbed clear plastic casing, but I was unsure this couldn’t have been solved in other ways. Never the less, the object was used creatively and occasionally delightfully.
Angela Clerkin serves her material well although is it Guy Dartnell who tears the thing apart and devours it with relish. Clerkin’s more formal style brought a classicism that felt like it worked against the grain of the piece somehow. This may have been a stylistic choice. It may be just my taste, but by comparison, Dartnell’s improvisatory feel, bold physical style and louche playfulness, was a delight to experience It lent itself to the gently provocative style much more naturally. His characters all loosely drawn, apparently effortless, but lucid. His Aunt Gloria, a glamorous but fading Irish relative who slaps wisdom down on the table – unsolicited – like she is slapping down an empty whiskey glass, was a total treat and it was worth the ticket price alone to experience Dartnell as the bear croaking out a gravel throated blues song about being misunderstood. He howls and he growls. He writhes and shudders like his body holds some poltergeist, like his spine is rejecting him. He claws the air and gnashes his teeth. ‘That’s not the person I am. Its not me. I’m an angel!’ he roars. It is funny, familiar and really unsettling.
Overall, I very much enjoyed my experience of The Bear and found some of the territory it traversed fascinating. It was certainly playful and entertaining. However despite flashes of brilliance and lovely touches, I wanted it to pack a more powerful punch. I wanted it to dig a little deeper and then walk out into the night with me afterwards. I wanted it to haunt me a little more.