BWW Reviews: BEAR, Old Red Lion Theatre, January 31 2014
Through the haze of fatigue, parents can only just recall the early days of child-rearing. You expect, and get, the end of a previous life and the start of another, one full of nappies, sleepless nights and a continual planning ahead to make sure that at least one parent will be with the baby at all times. What you don't expect is the sheer otherness of a new born child - the smells, the sounds, the pinkish roundness, more piglet than humanlet.
Andy MacNamee explores some of this otherness in Bear (at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 22 February) in which an ordinary couple give life to an extraordinary offspring - the eponymous bear. After a bit of somewhat unlikely banter between the expectant mother and her doctor and allusions to the media's initial interest in the freakshow, the play takes a darker hue as the pressures that all new parents feel are magnified by the bear's growing bearness in a human home.
Michael Gilhooly conveys the father's increasing distance from his partner as she bonds with the bear, through the little changes in daily routines that underline how three has become a crowd. Anna Wheatley, a kind of jaunty Everymum at first, eventually buckles under the contradictions of the life she has been given, worn down not so much by convention nor reason, but by the sheer improbablity of the future, a future that all parents know rushes up at a tremendous pace.
Bear is a strange play, both in terms of its structure - members of the audience introduce each scene - and in terms of its message (if, indeed, there is one). Though the play's comedy becomes darker and darker as it veers closer and closer to tragedy, it never quite goes away but is never quite fully realised either. There are parallels with Kafka but also with soap opera and even with panto as the fourth wall dissolves. At 70 minutes all through, Bear might just fall between two stools - neither a full exploration of the impact of an unusual baby's arrival on an ordinary couple's life (for which we would need more time and more characters) nor a tight half-hour radio play, in which the comedy and tragedy could be mashed into something unique. But you leave wanting to know more about what happens to the couple and that gives this first-time writer something to work with in the future.