What is real? What is memory? What is pure imagination? Is this really an abandoned village on top of an isolated mountain? Or is it purgatory or even heaven? And most importantly, what on earth were the last 85 minutes all about? But don’t be put off by that last question, because whilst Ed Thomas’ On Bear Ridge might leave you questioning everything you have seen and the multitude of possible meanings, it also leaves you with a feeling that whatever you decide it was meant to be about, it can be. Because above all else,this play is a superbly written and eloquently acted piece of Kafkaesque wonderment.
Set in a derelict butcher’s shop in the almost abandoned village, John Daniel and Noni are a couple mourning for the days before the war, before the old language was lost, before everything changed. The only other person left is Ifan Williams (Sion Daniel Young), friend of their long dead son and slaughter man for the butchershop, not that there is anything left to slaughter, just their memories. Their strange routine is interrupted by the arrival of Captain (Jason Hughes), claiming to be lost from his unit, clearly carrying his own grief, memories and uncertainties of whose side he is on, what he is fighting for, even who he is fighting. Yes, Kafka take a bow, but Kafka if he’d been a Welshman with a very dry sense of humour. It’s all very confusing and back and forth as they discuss the war or the memories they hold close of what they have lost, with questions answered with even more questions. But for all its ambiguity and strangeness, it’s also full of lovely humour that is handled with a grace and subtlety that just adds to the quirkiness of it all.
In Rhys Ifans and Rakie Ayola there is a double act that you hope to see repeated elsewhere. Ayola’s sweet quirkiness is a perfect foil for Ifan’s stubborn old school village butcher as he laments the modern world and all the changes it has brought to their home. The pair play off each other with ease and it’s impossible not to feel sorrow for what they have lost due to the unexplained war that has destroyed everything they held dear.
On Bear Ridge is, quite simply, a thing of beauty. Whether its target is the destruction of village life brought about by the modern world, or Brexit and the way it is ripping communities apart, turning people against one another, or whether it’s about our intolerances to those we see as different, ultimately it really doesn’t matter. What it is about is for each of us to decide for ourselves and argue out with friends afterwards. The only thing that is certain is that On Bear Ridge is another wonderful piece of theatre that will seriously mess with your head. And that is surely what makes theatre so damn special.
Written by: Ed Thomas
Directed by: Vicky Featherstone and Ed Thomas
Produced by: National Theatre Wales and Royal Court Theatre
Booking link: https://royalcourttheatre.com/whats-on/onbearridge/
Booking until: 23 November 2019