Tracks of The Winter Bear, Traverse, Review

Show details
Traverse Theatre Company
Rona Munro & Stephen Greenhorn (writers), Orla O’Loughlin & Zinnie Harris (directors)
Kai Fisher (designer), David Paul Jones (sound designer and composer), Simon Wilkinson (lighting design), White & Givan (movement)
Deborah Arnott(Shula), Karen Bartke (Avril), Caroline Deyga (Jenny /Bear), Kathryn Howden (Mairi/Jackie), Molly Innes (Faith /Margaret)

Running time

An interweaving of two feminine winter tales.

The concept of requited and unrequited love, so eloquently expressed by Carson McCullers in her novella The Ballad of the Sad Café, is a principle theme running through this double bill from writers Rona Munro and Stephen Greenhorn.

Set on a stage that in traditional style literally traverses that theatre space, this production that comes in two acts under one title takes the form of two separate stories with an ursine connection and is accompanied by soothing atmospheric music from David Paul Jones with the odd Sinatra tune thrown in.

The motif that echoes across the two acts is of bears who break their bounds to go on a rampage to gain their basic needs of food and sex. Act 1’s bear is Shula (Deborah Arnott), a shortened version of Ursula, and her bounds are societal. She is a woman who has wandered the world but returns to her home patch of Abbeyhill, Edinburgh to find her life- long love in her school pal, Avril (Karen Bartke). Act 2’s bear (Caroline Deyga) is your actual polar bear who crashes her fence at a low budget Winter Wonderland. Here padding around with a glass eyed, white faced determination to satisfy her hunger, she develops a relationship with Jackie (Kathryn Howden) who has had a seasonal job as Mother Christmas where she is ill clad against the winter cold in an acrylic fur trimmed mini Santa suit and high heeled glittery boots.

Act 1 from the witty pen of Stephen Greenhorn is an unspooling of time in a non-sequential way on a stage with a bed and an armchair that stand for various scenes from bus stop, beach, graveyard and zoo. Throughout, Deborah Arnott brilliantly embodies the anxious lover with her cage pacing male movements as she finds her way through hope, faith and loss while flirting with the idea of hibernation with a few oatcakes before facing survival in good old Chic Murray style by putting one foot in front of the other.

Act 2 is a prose poem from Rona Munro that explores the hunger for the nutrition of connection. It imagines the tastes of sorrow, love, safe, fear, guilt, comfort and the making do with crumbs of love in the shape of homemade shortbread that magically appears in Jackie’s rucksack after her dangerous embrace in the engine warmth of the bear. The result is a moving duet between bear and human after which they fly the skies like a female version of the Irn Bru Snowman.

These two ostensibly disparate tales performed by a fine all- female cast, are loosely interwoven with common factors like Abbeyhill’s Regent Bar, polar bear torches and the major issue of the basic hunger for connection with a significant other; the desire to be able to use the Slovenian word midva that Shula knows, meaning the two of us. Yet the ursine connection seems rather contrived and tenuous in this unusual yet strangely compelling adult fairy tale with a sapphic thread where men are invisible except by reference. Despite their ingenuity, they manage to be neither quite funny enough nor quite poignant enough for a winter festive offering.

But if you fancy something out of the ordinary this Yuletide, follow the bear tracks to (and inside!) the Traverse for some snow themed surprises.

09 – 23 December 7.30pm Matinees 19 and 24 December 2.30pm no performances Mondays or Sundays