The Bear is a play by Angela Clerkin and Lee Simpson – a co-production with Improbable, it is currently running in the Ovalhouse theatre’s downstairs space. It begins with the most startling opening that I’ve seen in a long time – the stage lights slowly rise on a big perspex box, 10 feet on a side, and within it is the indistinct shape of a big, brown bear appears, roaring and clawing at the ground. This scene fades, and when the lights come up again Angela Clerkin and Guy Dartnell are standing in front of the box, ready to explain the premise of the play.
The main character, played by Clerkin, is a solicitor’s clerk who finds herself assigned to a case where a suspected murderer blames the crime on a bear. As the play develops via dialogue between the characters interspersed with some rather deftly performed musical numbers, we slowly discover that the main character suffers from a pathological need to be physically abused, and that the bear of the title might be uncomfortably close at hand in more ways than one….
The Bear is a very neatly stitched together package – Clerkin plays her character with a genuine fragility, while Simpson is wonderful as a whole cavalcade of characters, including a larger-than-life maiden aunt, a drunken uncle, the prisoner and more. Along with some simple yet very effective staging and imaginative sound design, it comes together as a very satisfying and thought-provoking whole. Highly recommended.