JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE BEAR at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman 17.5.13.
3 stars ***
ARE YOU ANGRY? Do you let yourself get angry? If not – well, you might find yourself in the surrealist-noir world of this stylish new show by Angela Clerkin with Improbable Theatre, visiting the Traverse this weekend. Directed by Lee Simpson of Improbable, the show begins as a small-scale legal drama. On a little box-set that turns and broods in the middle of a dark stage, Angela Clerkin plays the central character, a London solicitor’s clerk caught up in the case of a man who seems to have murdered his business partner, for whom his wife has just left him.
The man claims, though, that he is innocent, and that his partner was killed by a bear. Angela initially dismisses the story, but soon begins to discover that the accused is not the only person to have glimpsed the bear; and eventually – after one or two fierce bursts of song from herself and her co-performer, Guy Dartnell – she begins to see it herself.
At the heart of the show, in other words, there is a slightly clunky metaphor about a very personal kind of anger. The bear represents our suppressed rage about the emotional betrayals and disappointments we suffer, with our families, or with our partners; it’s an idea that seems a little thin to support an 85-minute show, mainly made up of narrative and monologue. Along the way, though, Clerkin and Dartnell – backed by Nick Powell’s music, Mark Cunningham’s sound, and some fine lighting and design – achieve both some elegant moments, and some pleasingly wacky ones. There’s a feeling of an urban civilisation on the edge of something primal and frightening; and like the fox in the garden that stalked so many Fringe shows last year, the idea of the bear on the allotments perhaps carries a hidden strand of political meaning, just beyond the reach of this play.