Angela Clerkin & Lee Simpson
Directed by Lee Simpson
Pros: This show has something for everyone; from drama to dance and spoof to satire, there is never a dull moment. A genuinely funny and original concept performed with perfect simplicity.
Cons: Very few. The twist in the plot is quite obscure and comes out of nowhere, which could leave you more than a little bemused (but that’s the idea, really).
Our Verdict: We highly recommend this show. At times uproariously funny, at times touching, always witty, it is well-directed and energetically-performed and we think most viewers will love it.
It is very rare that a show’s publicity pamphlet gives you completely the wrong idea about its subject. It is even rarer that the show trumps its own publicity pamphlet. The Bear does just that. I have given a good deal of thought to how I might define this show or how, dear readers, I might provide you with some flavour of it by way of a snappy headline. I am ashamed to report that I have failed in my mission.
The Bear is at once a self-reflective personal narrative, a crime thriller, a sketch show, a documentary, a variety show… the list goes on. With an introduction from Angela Clerkin running along the lines of “I will be playing myself and Guy [Dartnell] will be playing everyone else,” I suppose what ensued was inevitable. The skill, though, is in making it work rather than presenting a rehash of some dated BBC sketch show.
The plot follows a solicitor’s clerk (the aptly-named Clerkin) working on a grisly murder case at The Old Bailey. During an early interview with the accused man, she is told not only that he is not responsible for the gruesome act, but that the real culprit was “the bear”. Clerkin and, indeed, we, think that he is mad. After all, one doesn’t come across too many bears in London (outside of Hamley’s, that is). However, it is not long until we find out that we have misjudged the poor man and that there is a bear on the loose. Clerkin’s mission is to find the bear and a witness to testify to its guilt, against the instructions of her barristers. The slight glitch in the plan is that the bear is onto her.
Clerkin guides us deftly through this murder case as a relatively straight character in a chaotic and almost farcical show. That is not to say that she doesn’t have her moments of wackiness (I’m thinking particularly of a wonderfully performed interlude of Irish dancing and a fight with the bear that is more than a little reminiscent of WWF), nor is it to say that her performance is dull in any way.
The star of the show, though, is Clerkin’s sole colleague on stage, Guy Dartnell. When Clerkin introduced him as playing all other characters, she wasn’t lying. His performance is full of energy and wit and benefits from flawless comic timing. His mini-lectures on such subjects as fighting bears are engaging and entertaining, his singing is gruff and dramatic and he is one of those rare breeds of actor that can play a convincing drunk. Aside from a slightly temperamental Irish accent (entirely forgivable, given the speed at which he moves from one character to another), it is hard to find fault in his performance.
The show flicks wonderfully from a spoof film noir in the first scene, to something that might be more at home in a PD James television episode in the second, back to film noir and on to farce. The lighting, whether handled in the box or by the actors themselves, is slick and complements well the frequent changes of genre, and the sound is smooth and well-timed.
The big surprise in this show is left until the very end. As the plot turned almost on its head and the reality of the bear unfolded, a strange thought popped into my head: perhaps there are more bears around than we would like to think.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!
The Bear runs at the Ovalhouse until 8th June 2013.