Review – The Bear

May 18 2013 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩   Poohdunnit with claws


Guy Darnell and Angela Clerkin star in The Bear, a stylish noir thriller. Photo credit Shiela Burnett

Guy Darnell and Angela Clerkin star in The Bear, a stylish noir thriller. Photo credit Sheila Burnett

Traverse Theatre
Thurs 16 – Sat 18 May 2013
Review by Irene Brown

Not the amazing dancing bear, but a murdering bear. Or so we are led to believe. A kind of Winnie the Poohdunnit with claws.

Sultry sax notes of 50s film noir and Grappelli-esque fiddle at the start give promise to a gumshoe genre that fails to fully materialise. A US voiceover continues the private eye theme as Angela Clerkin stands like a sleuthing Lily Marlene under the light of a yellow lamp. This element weaves in and out of the action but is lost as a dominant theme despite the play’s hype.

Instead, Angela Clerkin narrates her true story, based on her time as a solicitor’s clerk in London. As a trusted worker, she is allowed to meet a client in a cell under the Old Bailey who is on trial for murder. The client insists he did not commit the crime but that it was done by a bear. “It wasn’t me. It was the bear. It isn’t fair.”

Pretending at first that she didn’t hear the crazy statement, Clerkin finds herself reading the files on the case and learning that someone else saw the bear. She becomes obsessed with the case and with finding the bear, who in fact finds her.

This is clearly a play which deals with issues that are more complex than a mere spoof murder mystery, but there is a feeling that it doesn’t know quite what it is.

There is cabaret, a brief puppet show, a fine display of Irish step dancing and a great blues song from Guy Dartnell about bears. Among all that are facts like methods of fighting varieties of bear and the etymology of ‘berserk’ (Norsemen who rampaged while wearing the ‘sark’ of a bear, i.e. a bear suit).

Much of this could have been edited out of the rather long 85 minute performance that deals with the displacement and manifestation of grief and anger. Clerkin refers often to her Irish roots and of her anger that is as suppressed as her Irish accent as well as the concept of ‘poking the bear’, a metaphor for inciting anger.

Angela Clerkin is thoroughly engaging in her personal tale and one of the best and funniest bits is her with the big bear head on. Guy Dartnell takes an all the parts from murderer to barrister to gallus Auntie Gloria and some, but is less than convincing and just seemed bored, as if he had adopted the careless demeanour of his garb. If there should be no costume change (apart from Auntie Gloria’s fur coat and the bear’s fur coat), plain black is surely better.

This feels like a disappointing long road for a short cut.

Run ends Saturday 18 May 2013

Running time: 1 hr 25 mins
Full details on Traverse website:

The Bear on Tour
Tue 21 May – Sat 8 June
The Oval House, 2-54 Kennington Oval London SE11 5SW.
Box office: 020 7582 7680


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