Like the company’s 2009 show ‘Panic’, Improbable’s co-production with Angela Clerkin, directed by Lee Simpson, traces a link from mythic creature to modern psychological phenomenon.
Clerkin’s solicitor’s clerk turns hard-boiled detective when she meets a traumatised ex-soldier (played, like all the other characters, by Guy Dartnell) on trial for murdering his wife’s lover. ‘The bear did it,’ he insists, implausibly, from his cell beneath the Old Bailey. Soon enough, however, she sees the bear herself in the amber light of an Islington streetlamp.
Improbable’s devised shows can sometimes give the impression of having been more fun to research than watch. This show refers to the Pomo Bear Doctors of North America, Old Norse berserkers, a how-to guide to surviving a bear attack and the work of the Met’s Wildlife Crime Unit and renegade cousin Beast Watch UK. The references sit in the script, as on Angela’s makeshift murder board, awaiting the connecting lines.
'Why chase murderers?' asks Angela’s convention-baiting Aunt Gloria (Dartnell with a dubious Irish accent and a brown fur coat). 'They have something that you want. The part of you that’s missing.' So Angela goes hunting for her own anger – and meets it in her London living room, in a piece of brilliantly un-poetic choreography that sounds as if it’s putting Dartnell’s back out.
‘The Bear’ also includes a Tom Waits-esque growling blues number, Irish clogging, a film noir frame that feels rather tacked on and a moment of visual magic when Dartnell draws blood red ribbons from Clerkin’s jacket (like the rakings of claws in flesh).
Sharpened by ‘War Horse’ designer Rae Smith’s rotating corrugated cube and a star turn from sound designer Mark Cunningham’s low rich snarl, ‘The Bear’ is a baggy but deceptively cuddly exploration of the caged animal in all of us.
By Bella Todd