On Bear Ridge at the Royal Court Theatre
We leave so many things behind. Ed Thomas’ On Bear Ridge blurs a personal sense of loss with a form of cultural abandonment; the politics of place, and how that is inextricably tied to memory.
A derelict butcher’s shop, snow falling through the roof, sits as the final stand against a campaign of erosion and erasure. Behind looms the mountain, a rocky outcrop gradually revealed as the remnants of human habitation ebb away.
The play opens with Rhys Ifans’ Thomas Daniel, looking like old father time, rambling in his gorgeous singsong voice – the way he rolls his R’s! – about the face that greets him in the window. His impassioned shuffle down the dusty corridors of the past soon smashes into the realities of the present.
Walls rattling, jets flying overhead, wife Noni (Rakie Ayola, who has a sweet chemistry with her on-stage husband) and family friend Ifan Williams (the always excellent Sion Daniel Young) trying to keep order. The planes shoot off into the distance, but there’s no time to settle – there’s a stranger (Jason Hughes) lurking in the doorway…
Post-apocalyptic setting aside, the stories in On Bear Ridge are familiar. The son that leaves his small village behind, off to university in the city by the sea. The father who can never quite accept his child’s chosen path. Rural communities left to rot. Old ways forced to stay hidden.
As if keen to mask the simple emotional heart of his story – the death of a son and “brother” – Thomas introduces Hughes’ Captain into the mix. He is more of a contrived plot intrusion than anything else; an unconvincing oddity, there to unnecessarily add a bit of dramatic tension. It’s a bit of bloat in a play that, though short, could have maybe done with trimming even further to avoid it losing sight of its strengths.
Language is the vessel through which we remember and articulate our remembrance. And though the characters in this piece speak lyrically, words dancing as they leave their lips, for them something vital and true is always out of reach. An “old language” drowned out by the new, thanks to the homogenisation of capitalism and the ignorant violence that greets difference. Doors that remain locked because the key has been lost.
Photos: Mark Douet
On Bear Ridge is at the Royal Court Theatre from 24th October until 23rd November 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.