“I’m incapable of lying - I’m a teddy bear!” What happens in a world where teddy bears have to face a dark reality: will they get out of the mess they innocently got themselves into when the facts are twisted against them?
No Picnic follows the story of the two bears, Ludovic (Dan Frost) and Julius (James Sygrove) who, together with their fellow bear Alfie, witnessed the self inflicted auto-robotic asphyxiation of the clown Bobo at a picnic to which Bobo invited them. Panicking about the consequences they try to get help from the weird doll Greta (Helen Russell-Clark) whose advice shakes the very core of their belief system. Trying to get rid of the evidence only gets them deeper into trouble as the Chief Clown (Rhys King) is in hot pursuit and wants a culprit for the crowds.
Greg Freeman’s dark and funny play could be described as a mixture between Tim Burton, Terry Pratchett and The Simpsons, with its sudden twists and offbeat comic timings. The dialogue is fast and quick-witted but also looks at profound questions about morals, aging, self esteem and the human need to control others.
Frost and Sygrove work well as the troubled teddies looking to get out of difficulty and trying to find the missing bear Alfie. Their constant status games resemble absurd comic duo Vladimir and Estragon. During the course of the play they ease more into their characters and use the comic possibilities of precise movements in their bear costumes. As it is, one recognizes that there are actors underneath the masks and they could do with a better fitting and greater body-awareness.
Russell-Clark as the impish doll shows a skill for heightened dramatic expressions and is enjoyable to watch but there's a tendency to stay flat and artificial and some moments are missed for going deeper and showing a more personal side of the doll’s character. The entrance of the clown takes the play to another level. Rhys King is excellent in his characterisation of the controlling clown who acts as a sort of detective. His presence is creepy and funny at the same time and his acting unpredictable, which makes him exciting to watch.
The set is a big storybook, opening up to a different location on each page, cleverly constructed like a pop-up book with lots of love for detail. Equally the costumes (Vana Giannoula) for each character show a wide range of versatility and creativity.
Ken McClymont’s direction finds a creative way to combine the absurd with real questions about morality and lying. His theatrical language uses the characters’ ability to show off their skills and make the audience laugh out loud whilst at the same time pointing the finger at human issues.