Reviews from our current show, Bear North:
To enjoy Bear North to the full, it’s best not to think too hard about any of this. The bear likes to dance; it just does. The musicians want to help; they just do. There’s a tenuous story about an artistic retreat and log cabins in the woods, but that’s not really important either. Let’s just embrace the surrealism and get on with the show.
Because, if you let go and run with it, the show is a rather wonderful one. The musical trio of Roy Hutchins, Sue Bradley and Dr Blue deliver a relaxed, folkish accompaniment, while Hutchins also narrates the offbeat storyline; it’s reminiscent, perhaps, of songs and tall tales round a camp-fire. There’s easy-going humour, a touch of satire, and an open invitation for the audience to sing along. And the bear? Well, the bear just dances on.
It works, I think, because the set-up’s so versatile: the bear’s-head costume completely hides the face of the performer inside it, leaving a blank canvas on which we can paint any emotion we choose. When the bear briefly forgets itself, and starts to eye the audience as food, there’s comedic menace in its pointy-fanged snarl. When it’s happy and dancing, the same fixed expression becomes a toothy grin of joy. When it’s sad, it’s truly mournful, and we feel the same way too – ready to be comforted, strangely yet wonderfully, by a soft song about apple trees.
Most of the songs, in fact, invoke the natural world in some way, and over time I found my mind was gently carried to a place of freshness and tranquillity. When the singers asked me to breathe the forest air, I really did take lungfuls in. There’s poetry too; not too much of it, just enough to add to the rarefied and contemplative feel. The first poem is deliberately underwhelming, but hang in there, because there’s better work to come.
Just a couple of times I felt the mood lapsed into self-indulgence – had the feeling that the performers were primarily entertaining themselves. A tiny bit more discipline in the dialogue between numbers would help dispel that effect. One song is improvised from audience suggestions, but at other times the cast called out to each other to supply assorted details; I found that a little confusing, unsure if an improv game was being played on-stage.
My final words of praise, however, must go to the bear. I can’t name-check the performer inside the costume without spoiling a surprise, but I can say this show is utterly transformed by their repertoire of dances, and well-judged sense of fun. By the time the hour was up, I’d accepted the bear as a fully-fledged character – a character, in fact, that I was rather fond of. In the end then, the tables were turned: it was me who danced to Bear North‘s tune.”
**** Fringe Guru, “let go and run with it, the show is a rather wonderful one”
“Can you bear it? The heat I mean. Whilst we were handed out fans the stifling went on and it was challenging to say the least to swelter to a story of Canada’s frozen north. Were at the Welly, Duke of Wellington, in a room above the pub. No lights, and all the action’s the world of Brainfruit.
Happily we’re armed up by this fireside tale of how to journey north and either faint when you meet a bear or sometimes embrace him, or her. It might be the latter because that’s the bear dancing with them, in a dress but with incisors and a very real set of paws as well as head to suggest we might just get taken in the raw. But it’s a family show and the kids enjoy the spectacle, from the front row, of being next on the menu.
So just how did the bear get through immigration we’re asked and assured all shall be revealed. There is talk of a swarm of flying ants? But then this has been created by multi-award winning comedian and director Roy Hutchins – recent winner of the ‘Best Ensemble Production’ at the Wellington Fringe for Fiery Tongues. Brainfruit’s his creation.
This new show we’re told conjures up cajun folk n’ blues on bears, beavers, bugs, and buffalos. There’s a racoon there too, but here’s a secret: it doesn’t exist because it doesn’t start with B. But then neither do you, generically. Nevertheless that racoon enjoys a great track record in distracting bears when they’re about to lunch on you. That’s worth keeping in mind when you feel like dismissing them.
Lead vocalist and head improviser Roy Hutchins on synth, aided by singer and electric fiddler Sue Bradley (Perrier winner for her work with Pookiesnackenburger), whistler and much else Mike Mckeon and Thom Mckeon – where’s he now? Are he and the bear in a dress by any chance related? Or is it just to Mike? Highly acclaimed spoken word artiste Caitlin Mckeon isn’t able to perform so the ensemble is sadly under strength this time. Not that you’d notice if you don’t know; though it must inform choices.
What these are in the enchanting, enchanted completely Ivor Cutler-ish soundscape where you go to a Deep Lake and find Deep Point village with its 396 – no, adoption papers for the male couple owning the bar says 397 inhabitants – well….
So there’s songs of lakes and firesides and bears and indeed after an impossible odyssey involving an IT consultant licked into shape by a bear, there are melancholic musings about a waterfall, and implorings to vultures not to feed on you, or drop you down in the wrong place. The music slows, the pace eddies for a reason. The key’s minor for at least ten minutes it seems.
The show deepens as it continues. It creates its momentum and its small eddies. Its very improvisational feel and invitations to join in bass lines and choruses, means each show is different. Hutchins throws out suggestions to the audience to supply them – they’re a game crowd and do so unstintingly. It’s then genuinely interactive with a few nudges.
Do come if you want charm, unpredictable choruses and weather. And where else can you see a dancing bear not even brushed backwards in the making of this show? Though overheated? Yes – you might offer the bear a pint afterwards. And make sure you offer a pie too, so you’re not it.”
**** “There’s easy-going humour, a touch of satire, and an open invitation for the audience to sing along. And the bear? Well, the bear just dances on”
Brainfruit became truly collaborative in the creation of the show, Fiery Tongues. In keeping with its constitutional desire and remit to encourage new and younger voices the ‘Poetry Army’ emerged. Scores of poets and performers both experienced and less so, joined that army to deliver the fine verse from ‘the greats’ to create a 50-minute celebration of the poetry and words that have changed the world for the better. Music played an important part too, underscoring this landscape. The show was hard-edged and focused, looking at those who abused their power.
“An exhilarating, moving celebration,” “proof that words, rhyme and music can inspire humankind to stand together and fight the forces of institutionalised brutality, injustice and oppression” – Tim Stevenson, Theatre Review
“A Picker Pucker Panoramic Poetry Parade” – John Hegley
‘Mind-swaying’ – Beat Generation Poet Michael McClure
‘Deeply enriching… a magnificent poetic call-to-arms’ – Jonny Fluffypunk
‘A production of exquisite grace and beauty’ SallyHarrop
The Big Song:
The Big Song is a development of Fiery Tongue. After the five person show toured successfully it expanded exponentially, choirs became involved; first a 20 piece choir at Brighton’s Fringe and then a 40 piece choir in Sheffield at the Crucible Studio. This new development became The Big Song, a celebration of how songs have changed the world – a lyrical investigation into the questions: Why do people sing? Why do people join together to harmonise and express themselves in music? In May 2017 The Big Song was performed at Brighton Dome for Brighton Festival. Hutchins narrated alongside the 100 piece choir to an audience of over 1000. This was to be Williams’s last major poem before his death in July 2017.
Zanzibar Cats / Darwin’s Nose:
Zanzibar Cats was a solo show performed by Roy Hutchins and which featured the short poems of Heathcote Williams that had previously not been performed publicly. Michael Coveney, the renowned theatre critic was the first of many reviewers to sing its praises. This show was performed nationally and was featured at Vurige Tongen (‘Fiery Tongues’) in Amsterdam, and was later renamed as, ‘Darwin’s Nose’.
“Like a Molotov cocktail with the zing and the bite of a Martini chaser – funny, bright, touching, merciless.’ What’s On Stage
‘Classy stuff… unfailingly elegant… blazingly powerful.’ The Scotsman
‘Quietly exquisite . . . political anger with a human face… chock-full of wisdom and experience.’ The Herald
A solo show, centred on Heathcote Williams’ natural history and scientific work toured nationally in 2013. A wonderful evocation of Williams’ fascination with the natural world – that had begun with his acclaimed work, Whale Nation.