Wake Up

Oct 5 2023 | By More

★★★★☆     Audacious

The Studio: Tue 3 Oct 2023
Review by Thom Dibdin

Solar Bear’s triple bill of short plays, brought together under the title of Wake Up and playing for one night only at the Studio near the start of a Scottish tour, is a resounding and entertaining success.

The three pieces, all presented as visual theatre without any dialogue, cover seemingly different topics – and are hugely varied in tone and style – but are united in their exploration of different aspects of memory. The result, with unifying design ethic from Jenny Booth (set) and Kai Fischer (lighting), has a remarkable coherence, despite the differences.

Moira Anne McAuslan, Connor Bryson and Claire Wetherall in Ties. Pic: Peter Dibdin

In Solar Bear’s physical theatre environment, with all three plays developed through its Make a Change programme “for deaf talent to develop, test and experiment with creative ideas”, there is no writer, as such, just a director. Jonathan Lloyd provides dramaturgy to the whole production.

Director Moira Anne McAuslan kicks off the evening with Ties, which questions our notions of family history; Craig McCulloch directs Blackout which looks at memory lost during alcohol use; and, to round it off, in Time to Wake Up Petre Dobre presents a nightmarish atavistic memory of a species inventing itself into extinction.


McAuslan’s Ties has a formality to it, as she uses a big glittering gold tie to link back to the history of a young woman who has just buried her Grandparents in grave marked with created in dull black ties. Looking into a box in the attic, she find a picture of them and the shiny tie – at which point Connor Bryson and Claire Wetherall appear as the youthful couple.

The piece skims through their lives in a series of snapshot scenes, all inventively using ties to create the costumes. It’s maybe a cliched story as the couple meet in a dance hall, find domestic bliss and survive the war, with McAuslan providing any extra characters as needed.

Craig McCullochDirector and actor in 'Blackout' one of the pieces in Solar Bear's production Wake Up.

Craig McCulloch in Blackout. Pic: Peter Dibdin.

What really makes it zing, however, is the attention to detail. Its use of repeated scenes to depict a relationship growing stale, then their separate lives in the war – and one gorgeous moment when the couple realise that the friends each of them have made are also a couple. Who, both being played by McAuslan, of course look remarkably similar.

As well as creating costumes, the physical ties serve as a metaphor for memories, our links to the past. Emphasising that this is an exploration of how we see our elders through the lens of who they are now, rather than understanding what made them the people they became. And how that is to our own loss.

darkly comic

Bryson returns in Craig MacCulloch’s Blackout, in which McCulloch wakes one morning on the sofa of his tiny flat, to find it crammed with the detritus of a night before, of which he has no recollection. Rather more disturbingly, also lying on the sofa is the body of a man who is most decidedly dead.

The arrival of Bryson as his best pal makes for a darkly comic piece as the pair try and work out what to do with the body and how to clean up the flat. The physical comedy is superbly macabre, with a twist and kicker for the whole piece which is hidden in plain sight and develops gradually as MacCulloch works out just what it was that happened.

Petre Dobre Director and actor in Time to Wake Up’ one of the pieces in Solar Bear's production Wake Up.

Petre Dobre in Time to Wake Up. Pic: Peter Dibdin

Petre Dobre stars in his own one person piece, Time to Wake Up, in which he plays a weary office worker who comes home to his flat, looks out of the window at the trees dying in the heat and falls asleep in his chair – to dream a nightmare of how the world came here and where it might be going.

Dobre’s is the most formally stylised of the pieces. He uses what he calls visual vernacular, which combines physical movement with the use of his hands and face, in a way that will be familiar to anyone who has seen BSL conversations involving the world around us.

It is also by far the most stylistically out-there of the pieces, with Dobre bending and twisting his body to reflect what he dreams that he is seeing, from the creation of the planet, through the time of the dinosaurs and on to the ascent of man. He is helped by visual backdrop nudges from Rob Willoughby’s AV design, with the final moments a heart-felt warning of future catastrophe.

fitting climax

Dobre’s chilling piece is a fitting climax to the evening’s crescendo from the calmness of Ties, through the tension of Blackout. Each has a strong internal logic, with its own exploration of emotions and its shades of comedy, while introducing three very different ways of creating non-verbal theatre.

On this showing, the Make a Change programme is a huge success. While it is heartening, of course, to see a show that is completely accessible to a deaf audience, these are theatre makers who all deserve to be seen widely, in a production that succeeds not because of the merits of its accessibility, but on the quality and adventure of what is doing.

Running time: one hour and 35 minutes (no interval)
The Studio at Festival Theatre, 22 Potterrow, EH8 9BL.
Tuesday 3 October 2023
One show: 7.30pm.
Run ended.

Solar Bear Website: solarbear.org.uk
Facebook: @solar.bear
X (formerly Twitter): @TheSolarBear

Wake Up on tour:

The Studio at Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Tue 3 October
Run ended.

Cumbernauld Theatre at Lanternhouse, Cumbernauld
Wed 4 October
Tickets and details: Book here.

Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy
Fri 6 October
Tickets and details: Book here.

The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen
Wed 11 October
Tickets and details: Book here.

Eden Court, Inverness
Thurs 12 October
Tickets and details: Book here.

The Byre Theatre, St Andrews
Sat 14 October
Tickets and details: Book here.


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