Writer and Director Andy McNamee's first play creates a wonderfully absurd world where a happy, devoted couple realise their dreams in making their perfect twosome a perfect threesome with the news of a pregnancy. However, akin to Edward Albee's masterpiece Who Is Sylvia, there is a twist in the tale of love.
She – Anna Wheatley – is to give birth to a bear; qualified as a grizzly bear. He – Michael Gilhooly – is somewhat perplexed, so say the least! As we progress through the Chapters of this 70 minute marathon of sweet home life, hospital visits, audience participation – reading cards presented to them by the actors – disturbed lives, then shattered home/love life… and the London Zoo, She is forced to give up her true love – her child. He, Gilhooly, delivers a stunning speech about the nighttime removal of the Bear, falling down a hill in a forest, landing on the infant and then slowly strangling the life out of the creature. This was the meat of the story. Powerful, image-based direct-address beautifully and truthfully felt and delivered. She, Wheatley, certainly captured the impish quality of the love-filled girlfriend to the heartbroken Mother who knows; for the sake of what is ‘normal’ she must give up her son. Her Bear.
Evocative original music by Angus MacRae, conjured a Tim Burton-like madness of a world very real but skewed to a darker side, set the tone from the beginning but, like the play, never really explored the themes and issues in a fulsome way. Of course the issues of racism, bigotry, lack of tolerance and understanding, social outcasts and motherly love were raised but never really explored to any great extent. As in Albee's play, the form and content allowed it to explore, without fear of offence or political correctness, the very issue of what is ‘normal’. In Andy McNamee's play the themes and issues were merely sighted – not seen!
That said, the two performers – who make it clear they are actors telling a story and inform us from the start that is 'made up' – really give it their all. Totally believable in their various roles of a couple in love, a doctor delivering the news of the Bear and a wonderful no-nonsense zookeeper.
Their lives are shattered. She, by the loss of the Bear. He, by the presence of the Bear. She is forced, by him, to give it up. "I didn’t want to. I had to. I do know that."
The final 'line' of the play is delivered by another audience member: "The end of this Bear/there are others out there/ time to go home." Indeed we did. Filled with a tantalising tale full of potential with, ultimately, no real sting.