Review: On Bear Ridge, Royal Court

The densely poetic On Bear Ridge offers a thoughtful experience at the Royal Court, with Rhys Ifans and Rakie Ayola on fine form

“One minute we had customers, the next minute there was no-one”

There are moments, especially once the clocks have turned back and any hint of political news seeps through the cracks, that you crave the comfort of something uncomplicatedly warming – for me, I’m hoping Mary Poppins will scratch that itch. Until then, we have the unspecified apocalypse (Lord knows theatre loves apocalyptic near futures) that lours menacingly over Ed Thomas’ new play On Bear Ridge.

Deep in some rural backwater, Noni and John Daniel are the proprietors of a grocers slash butchers slash petrol pump slash black market den. Or at least they were, the community they served having long disappeared, and now they’re down to their last sack of potatoes. Their chat has a gnomic, Beckett-like feel, especially when their shopboy Ifan pops up for the odd word. But fighter jets are roaring above and the arrival of the bedraggled, gun-toting Captain heralds a twist into darker terrain.

Even here though, little of the larger picture ever becomes clear, Thomas and co-director Vicky Featherstone’s production is more concerned with the minutiae of life on the edge, catastrophe as seen on the micro-level. And there’s much to chew over – the loss of (a minority) language, of customs as well as customers, the culture that has dissipated along with the community. The fragility of our place on this earth and what we leave behind comes sharply into focus.

Rakie Ayola and Rhys Ifans are terrific as Noni and John Daniel, a complementary balance of optimism and teetering panic, especially once their precious memories seem to come under threat. Jason Hughes (actual Warren from This Life) and Sion Daniel Young have less to do but make no less impact for it, as the walls of Cai Dyfan’s design peel away and Elliot Griggs’ lighting packs in surprising depth. The density of the text might seem a little challenging at first but On Bear Ridge is definitely one to muse over.

Running time: 80 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Mark Douet
On Bear Ridge is booking at the Royal Court until 23rd November

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