Pros: An atmospheric, well rendered and touching piece of theatre.
Cons: Quite short. The emotional journey didn’t quite feel complete.
Tim Treadwell was a fascinating character and famous for his love and protection of bears in Alaska. He was subject of a film documentary by Werner Herzog called Grizzly Man in 2005 and I certainly remember him as ‘the guy with the bears’. This show by Over The Limit is a poetic and symbolic reimagining of Treadwell’s time in Alaska as seen from the video footage he produced while he was there. Treadwell’s character was unique: think part David Attenborough, part Frank Spencer and part King Lear. Joseph Cullen, also the writer of the performance, provides a brilliant portrayal of this brave, child-like and passionate man. His attention to detail is fantastic and drives the central component of the show brilliantly.
The strength of this production is the mesmerising mix between the world of the bears and the world of Treadwell. It is almost like a wildlife documentary had wandered onstage at the Royal Opera House examining and explaining the ballet as it happened. It shows the daring closeness of Treadwell to this seemingly innocuous but dangerous domain while simultaneously portraying his tragic distance from it. The bears (played by the other members of the cast) are hypnotic in their slow, deliberate rhythmic movements. Their black eyes seem to quiver in the light as they stare off into the distance. This really works well with the music as well as the stark and slightly damp space that we inhabit in the Waterloo Vaults. Even the occasional slow rattling of the trains above in the train station seems to be in time with the show, and adds to the surreal and close atmosphere.
The characterisation of Treadwell is at times sublime, but at the end of the show I can’t help but feel that I want more. Somehow it feels incomplete, and not in a good way. Knowing the eventual heart-breaking end of Treadwell and not seeing this referenced in the show seems like a missed opportunity. Although I get the feeling that it is very deliberately left out, it doesn’t feel satisfying.
Overall, this performance approaches brilliance, so many of the elements collide in perfect unison, but just not for long enough and not to a fulfilling conclusion.
Writer: Joseph Cullen
Choreographer: Laura Meaton
Lighting Design: Gregory Jordan
Composer and Sound Design: Odinn Orn Hilmarsson
Produced by: Over The Limit Theatre Company
This show has now completed its run.