Tracks of the Winter Bear (Traverse: 9- 24 December ’15)

Traverse Theatre

Traverse Theatre

“Cool and works a treat”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Nae Bad

Now here’s a frosty cracker of a show in two acts: Act 1 written by Stephen Greenhorn and directed by Zinnie Harris; Act 2, written by Rona Munro and directed by Orla O’Loughlin. Each Act tells a different story with different characters but pull them apart and – with a muffled bang – you get a Christmas message and a novelty polar bear torch. There’s a ginormous bear as well, but that would explode the cracker idea way beyond belief.

As last year, with The Devil Masters, we’re close to home but it’s the sanctimonious New Town no more; no, it’s Craigmillar, Abbeyhill, and on the beach at Portobello. Act 1 opens up high, probably on the Crags, looking ‘down there’ on Edinburgh. Act 2, for the most part, is up a hillside but closes on a tenement stair. It is most definitely winter in both acts. You can almost hear the soft snow crunch beneath the boots – and it stays white n’ even – and there are bare trees suspended from the sky. Kai Fischer (Designer) and Simon Wilkinson (Lighting) make it blue and cold and pretty empty. But there’s keen writing, much humour, a lot of tenderness and a finely attuned soundscape from David Paul Jones. And the audience is close-in on both sides of a narrow traverse stage, behind scrim gauze, which is cool and works a treat.

Deborah Arnott and Karen Bartke Photos: Mihaela Bodlovic

Deborah Arnott and Karen Bartke
Photos: Mihaela Bodlovic

Act 1, Greenhorn’s work, is the love story of Shula (Deborah Arnott) and Avril (Karen Bartke). Shula went away after exams and came back to find Avril married to Craig, which both women find hard to take. ‘How to cope?’ falls somewhere between nostalgia and vodka, which makes it a slightly unsteady mix of the sad and the satisfying. The story is told in retrospective snatches of memory and loss. Arnott does forsaken and hurt very well; whilst Bartke has the gentler, healing role. Watch out too for the graveside wit of Mairi (Kathryn Howden) as she tends the memory of her Donald.

Act 2, Munro’s piece, is funnier, more outrageous. Jackie (Kathryn Howden again) has had enough of being Mrs Claus in a tacky Winter Wonderland but along comes her one big ‘wee adventure’ involving a killer polar bear with a bloodcurdling roar and a fantastic nose for shortbread. As Jackie mentioned Snowball cocktails, I thought Advocaat, and then of Dutch author Hans de Beer’s lovely Little Polar Bear stories; and indeed Munro’s bear (a magnificently swaddled Caroline Deyga) is a kind creature, once she has digested and expressed the men in her life, but I still wouldn’t bring susceptible children to this show.

Kathryn Howden and Caroline Deyga

Kathryn Howden and Caroline Deyga

‘Look at you!’ calls out a delighted Jackie as she passes under the Bridges. She is, naturally, on the back of a polar bear and having a whale of a time. No doubt the water is freezing but I still found the Tracks of the Winter Bear to be peculiarly heart-warming, which is always good at this time of year.


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Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 9 December)

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