Culture: Theatre

Beige Recommends: The Bear, Ovalhouse

Angela Clerkin and Guy Dartnell in The Bear

Over the course of her acting career Angela Clerkin has also worked as a solicitor’s clerk on some promient trials. She’s been on nodding turns with murderers and drug barons and a regular visitor to the sinister cells under The Old Bailey. Proving that autobiography is so often the genesis for art, she has now used her experiences to create a fictional murder case in this two-hander show with long-time collaborator Guy Dartnell.

The premise is simple enough. In her duties as a clerk, Clerkin (the name and occupation being a nice coincidence) finds herself working with a former soldier from the Bosnian war and Northern Ireland conflict who is accused of murdering his wife’s lover. “I didn’t do it. The bear did it,” he confides in Clerkin.

Initially dismissing the idea as preposterous, Clerkin then comes across a statement from a witness who claims that he saw a bear at the scene of the crime. This is all she needs to begin investigating the story herself.What unfolds is an exceptionally clever exploration of the nature of anger, as Clerkin attempts to unravel the murder case, while also going on an unexpected search for her own ‘inner bear’.

Part film noir, part confessional autobiography and fable, the evening benefits from a strong and compelling narrative arc, but also a deliciously playful quality. Tangential cabaret pieces lighten the tone (think Irish dancing and bear baiting songs), but never distract from the main purpose. Director Lee Simpson keeps tight control of the piece, seamlessly moving from moments of intensity to zaniness.

Clerkin plays herself, while the remarkably versatile actor Guy Dartnell morphs into everyone from the defendant and the QC to Clerkin’s hilariously eccentric aunt Gloria. The two actors are perfectly paired, with Dartnell’s hulking physique being a suitable contrast to Clerkin’s delicate, petite features.

The production is simple, yet evocative. Rae Smith’s eerily lit, three sided, industrial perspective container forms the centrepiece. First used as the Old Bailey cell, it then becomes Clerkin’s flat and even the stage of a working men’s club.

The strength of this 85-minute show is that it presents a serious and timely idea – the role of anger in modern society – in an accessible and entertaining way. It doesn’t necessarily reach hard and fast conclusions, but then this seems apt for the subject, suggesting that we all manage our anger as best we can and that, sometimes, the jagged edges can be used to our advantage.

The Bear is at Ovalhouse until 8 June

Words: Alex Hopkins

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