The entire show has a hypnotic, surreal quality to it. Some performers are dressed in traditional folksy garb, with masquerade masks, while others sport a modern floral dress paired with a full beard, and a realistic bear’s head. A man in a kilt, wearing a wolfs head mask, dances slowly beside the performers throughout the show. His movements are very deliberate, and consistent. You would have thought this would get stale after an hour, but there is something hypnotising about his image which made it hard to look away.
Even in a moment of technical difficulty, the stage manager takes the time to cover his face with a buffalo mask before he fixes a microphone. I loved the depth of commitment this show had to its own tone.
Bear North could have benefitted from a more lively audience, and I wonder if 6pm at the Gryphon was the wrong choice of time and place. At one point we are asked to get up and dance with Wolfie, something I would have been happy to do after a beer at Meow, or the Fringe Bar. But in the black box at the Gryphon, having just finished work, I’m too shy to get up in front of the audience. The rest of the crowd seems to feel the same, and there’s a bit of awkwardness. Luckily a guy called Brett takes pity on us and gets up to dance (Thanks to Brett, what a hero). Perhaps in a space with a less defined performer/audience divide the crowd would have felt more comfortable breaking the fourth wall, and given the performers more energy to work with.
For any fan of folk music, who is brave enough to let themselves become part of the performance Bear North will be a great night out. Don’t expect much in the way of narrative, that’s not the point. Instead allow yourself to bask in the surrealism and beautiful music.
Bear North is currently showing at Gryphon Theatre until Saturday 23th March. It is part of the Wellington NZ Fringe Arts Festival. To book tickets, visit their page on the Fringe Festival website. To find out more about the Fringe Festival, visit their website.