Royal Court Theatre, London until 23 November 2019
Warplanes occasionally roar across the sky above John Daniel (Rhys Ifans) and Noni’s (Rakie Ayola) grocery store and butchers on Bear Ridge. They wave knives and shout at them because it makes them feel better. Then the quiet of the falling snow returns.
It is reflective of the tone of Ed Thomas’ play On Bear Ridge, emotions that momentarily crack and shatter before a jagged peace returns. Up in the mountain, in an unidentified country – although it is easy to imagine it is Wales – Bear Ridge store has long ceased trading.
Its shelves empty, the fridge is quiet, John Daniel and Noni are down to their last bag of potatoes but they won’t leave like the people who were once their customers have. Grief and loss keep them on the desolate Bear Ridge. Loss of their son, loss of the community in which they were a part and loss of a language – a culture and identity. All they have are their memories but even those, like the structure of the store, are deconstructing.
Ifan William (Sion Daniel Young), their slaughterman, pops up from a trap door in the floor to give progress on a jigsaw and a sense of routine. The appearance of war-weary, PTSD-suffering The Captain (Jason Hughes) brings the outside world knocking but he soon finds their own world has opened up to receive him.
Thomas’ script is at times beautifully poetic and devastatingly descriptive. It captures the beauty of belonging and humanity whilst simultaneously describing an external world that has crumbled into war, decay and mistrust.
Poetic passages are interspersed with conversation and quips in a vernacular that is equally rich and revealing. There is a vulnerability in the ordinariness and something epic in its simplicity.
It is not always an easy play to access; it is a play of ideas, metaphors and feelings as much as a story and it wouldn’t be half the play without the precision of the performances. Ifans in particular lifts meaning from between the words and in the quieter contemplative moments.
A surreal, existential tragi-comedy, On Bear Ridge is at times tense, laugh out loud funny and heart-wrenchingly sad.
A joint production between the Royal Court and National Theatre Wales, I’m giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.
It’s 85 minutes long without an interval and is at the Royal Court Theatre until 23 November.
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