The Theatreguide.London Review
On Bear Ridge
Royal Court Theatre Autumn 2019
Evocative, moving and
thought-inspiring, there is more meat to this under-ninety-minute
play than to many twice its length.
In an abandoned shop in
abandoned village in a war-ravaged countryside, an elderly couple
carry on, not just with the passivity of habit but in determined
defiance of time.
If they do not remain
and remember, then not only
will the largest part of their lives fade away, but the world they
once inhabited might just as well not have been.
The two figures are
not especially heroic types, but playwright Ed Thomas makes us feel
the heroism of their self-appointed task.
We are deep into Beckett territory here, but Thomas wears his influences comfortably and adds enough that is new and vivid to make his vision his own.
particular he places an emotively resonant metaphor at the centre of
his play. The man is evidently the last living speaker of something
called only The Old Language, and his fading memory threatens the
negation of a whole culture as well as a large part of who he is.
is not irrelevant that this play is a co-production with the National
Theatre Wales and the characters are given Welsh names.)
couple also fight against time and false progress by burying their
dead son in a secret wild place rather than letting his grave be lost
in the anonymity of the war dead.
There are two other
the play, a dimwitted former employee kept going by the memory of his
love for the dead son, and a passing soldier who joined the army
because it offered order in a chaotic world only to discover it
They are, in a way, the
Pozzo and Lucky to the
play's central couple, putting their heroic stature into relief by
On top of everything
else, playwright Thomas has a superb
ear for the resonant line or image. Existential fear is domesticated
into a vicious but resistible wild fox just outside their door, while
memory is a long corridor with rooms leading off it that they have to
visit frequently to keep warm and well lit.
The employee spends his
days laboriously working on a jigsaw map of the world, and the couple
have grown old without realising it 'because time fell asleep in the
snow and never told us.'
Ed Thomas co-directs
with the Royal
Court's Vicky Featherstone and, in striking contrast to Beckett,
anchors the play in a solid reality of time, place and characters.
Rhys Ifans makes the man
not especially bright or courageous, but
driven almost animal-like to do what he understands as his duty,
while Rakie Ayola makes the woman more recognisably Beckett-ish,
carrying on simply because she is incapable of not carrying on.
Hughes as the soldier and Sion Daniel Young as the boy provide
generous support and are each rewarded with a powerful scene of their
If On Bear Ridge has any
flaw it may be that it is packed too
densely with themes, ideas and images – I've barely gotten into the
anti-war element, the memories of the village in better times or
designer Cal Dyfan's effect of having the solid set begin to
disappear as the main characters' memories fade.
But how exciting it is to encounter a play with so much to hold, move and stimulate you.
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