Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews


On Bear Ridge

National Theatre Wales/Royal Court Theatre , Sherman Theatre, Cardiff , September 25, 2019
On Bear Ridge by National Theatre Wales/Royal Court Theatre In 1956 John Osborne’s ‘kitchen sink play’, Look Back in Anger, changed the way most plays were written from then on. He was quickly followed by Harold Pinter who used long pauses to strengthen the reality of his writing. Ed Thomas’s new play, although not a new form of playwriting has, particularly in the way he and the wonderful, present director resident at the Royal Court Theatre have carefully paced this play, a feel and vitality of new writing about it.

The play has extraordinary moments where it seems to flash from reality to surrealism in the turn of a sentence, again bringing more highlights to the narrative and in the distant sound of the shop echoing the chatter of customers in better times. In this run down, fading butcher’s shop, a fading, run down, butcher is given a totally strong and compelling performance by Rhys Ifans as John Daniel. It is a powerful peace of work showing us an actor at the highest level of excellence.

In direct contrast to his rough and ready character we get an extraordinary degree of intelligence and deep sensitivity from from the equally, captivating Rakie Ayola as his partner, Noni.

When the walls of the shop fly away they are isolated by the rocky out crop, Bear Ridge, that rises beside them and the grey cold mist in the sky around it. Lighting designer, Elliot Griggs has worked his magic on the sky, the mist actually appears to float out over the auditorium making us all shiver.

There are moments of great fun as John tells us how his trousers might be cut into pieces and used as dusters. He delivers this tale like an operatic aria, with no music. He then asserts that he is the last man on Bear Ridge, then a trap door in the floor opens and another man pops up just as a flight of jet aircraft scream across the sky. Ifan Williams, now he’s a plane spotter, used to be one of the butchers working in the shop. Sion Daniel Young brings more engaging comedy and a touch of surrealism to the quirky role. Then he flops back down beneath the floor.

Later there is music from a scratchy record player and they dance as snowflakes fall upon them. This ecstasy in quickly interrupted – A man stands in the doorway pointing a gun at them. Jason Hughes plays the captain who is holding the gun, initially with a threatening strength but he is soon won over and they all join in a very friendly conversation until Ifan Williams pops up through the floor again and the gun comes out.

More friendly chat sorts him out. He then gives us a long and nostalgic reverie; he tells of a time when his grandfather took him for rides in his old Wolsey car and bought him an ice cream.

Back to the present time and we continue to enjoy and appreciate the sensitivity and strength of the performances of Rakie Ayola and Rhys Ifans as they seem to be inviting us to join them in a cup of tea. As the snow falls, we all smile widely and join them in the happiness they share.

Until 5 October, before transferring to the Royal Court Theatre from 24 October to 23 November.

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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