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BWW Review: ON BEAR RIDGE, Royal Court Theatre

On Bear RidgeTwo of the most prevalent themes in Ed Thomas' new play, On Bear Ridge, are memories and language. Set atop a mountain in a rural location, presumably somewhere in Wales, butcher John Daniel (Rhys Ifans), his wife Noni (Rakie Ayola) and slaughterman Ifan William (Sion Daniel Young) are bunkering down in their rundown shop while the snow builds higher outside the front door.

On Bear RidgeSomething catastrophic has happened to the nearby town, leaving them totally isolated - their food supply is dwindling, and they have no contact with the outside world. That is until a pistol-wielding army captain (Jason Hughes) appears - he is part of an operation to get anyone left on the ridge to leave so that it can be razed to the ground.

He is a man clearly haunted by his past and traumatised by what he's seen during the ongoing war. This fits in well with the couple who have lost their only son; he is buried on the mountain nearby, which is one of the reasons they refuse to leave their home.

Loss is a huge part of this play, whether it be loss of self, language or loved ones. John Daniel is one of a few people who he says can speak the 'old language' - he vividly explains how his memories are compartmentalised into rooms off long, winding corridors into which he goes into from time to time so that he doesn't forget. Although Noni can't speak the old language, she encourages her husband to continue speaking it so that he can keep it fresh in his mind.

The production, which transferred to the Royal Court following an initial run at the Sherman Theatre in Wales, would have had a particular impact on the Welsh community. Being Welsh myself, I understand the desire to keep an old, dying language alive - however, there are numerous themes that Thomas weaves throughout which are universally relevant.

Cai Dyfan's butcher shop is dark and sparse, and as the story progresses the walls around the characters disappear, leaving them exposed to the elements outside. Ifans is fantastic in this role, enjoying the opportunity to indulge in John Daniel's quirkier side, while also easily shifting to a sedate man mourning the loss of his language and his son. Ayola's Noni is calm and resilient while Jason Hughes is devastating as a haunted military man.

Co-directed by both Ed Thomas and Vicky Featherstone, it's a poignant production which brilliantly develops over the course of 90 minutes, emphasising the need for tenderness and resilience and the importance of culture.

On Bear Ridge at Royal Court Theatre until 23 November

Photo Credit: Mark Douet

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From This Author Laura Jones