The cast of Bear
Michael Gihooly and Anna Wheatley
© Will Vickers

Bear has the feel of a play that is the product of an extended improvisation. Indeed, at one important point, the play's central dilemma is presented within a playful 'what if' conversation: What if a couple were happy to have conceive a baby, only for that baby to turn out to be a grizzly bear?

The result feels slightly dramatically lopsided. The set-up feels slightly rushed. It seems as if the predicament of bearing such a bizarre burden must be accepted too readily in order to get to the inevitable post-birth crisis: dealing with the impact of a baby bear on this couple's life and the life they have unwittingly created.

That is not to say that the first scenes of the play are not enjoyable. However, Bear really comes into its own when the couple must decide what to do once it has become clear that maternal love does indeed stretch to another species but that the reality of living with a wild animal means that a decision must be made: Will love and compassion or practical reality win?

Michael Gihooly and Anna Wheatley, who play the couple and are both excellent throughout, create very powerful scenes and carry the play with great energy and honesty. Their interplay with the audience makes for quite good fun: "will I be chosen to read from a card next"? Given the intimacy of the piece, I did wonder whether the writer and director, Andy McNamee, considered going a step further to allow the audience to ask direct questions of the couple during the play - it could have had interesting results!

As ever, the Old Red Lion makes for a very simple, minimalist setting and the actors do a great job making the audience feel at home in their home and a part of their story. Bear does create funny moments out of absurdity and I was moved by the actors, but the metaphor, if indeed that is the way it is intended, does not quite translate clearly or succinctly enough to have a lasting impact.