Theatrical: ‘The Bear’

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I don’t make new year’s resolutions, so for 2019 I hatched a plan – I was going to explore more classical theatre. I regularly avail of new shows. Didn’t the ancient Greeks invent the art form though? I have thousands of years of catching up to do. I decided that this Wednesday I would have an adventure, and attend ‘The Bear’ by the Russian playwright Anton Chekhov.

I was apprehensive. Not knowing Chekhov’s work,  I do however know of his reputation for sullen, Russian misery and suffering. If I was asked to use a word to describe his writing (never having read it) I would use the word ‘solemn’.

Research indicated that this was a comedy though. I steeled my nerves. A comedy about the tragedy and futility of life (in the Russian style) could still be quite miserable. I headed upstairs in Doyle’s – the venue for Judder Theatre’s production of ‘The Bear’ – and took my seat.

Pub theatre is wonderful. The atmosphere tends to be more relaxed and informal. This was the case tonight. People were chatting away, enjoying a drink while we waited for the show to begin.

My reservations about Chekhov were unfounded. This play was hilarious. It is a one act melodramatic farce, with three hyper-real characters, who turned it up to eleven.

Madame Popov (played by Geraldine Crowley) is a grieving, nineteenth century Russian widow. She thoroughly enjoys her grief, vowing to lock herself away for the rest of her life, as she is utterly bereft without her lying, cheating, thieving, dead husband. Shrouded in black, she somehow manages to keep her face powdered for the visitors she rejects whenever they call. Her mourning is all consuming. I reveled in her melodramatic sorrow. This was Sue-Ellen Ewing on steroids. Wonderful performance.

Her decrepit accomplice is her butler Luka (played with joyous abandon by Vincent Patrick)  who shuffles about incompetently, and accidentally admits a creditor of Madame Popov’s deceased husband into her mourning chamber.

Grigory Stepanitch Smirnov (played with intensity by Alan O’ Connell, in a manner which  heightens the lunacy of the play) is an angry man. He is owed money by the expired Mr. Popov and vows not to leave until the debt has been repaid. He has been unlucky in love, but somehow a chemistry sparks between him and the widow Popov. I shall say no more about the tale.

This is a very funny play, directed with panache by Shaun Elebert.

Highly recommended.

‘The Bear’ runs at 7pm, until Saturday in Doyle’s Pub on College Green.

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