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Tracks of the Winter Bear

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

A snow-ridden pathway flanked at either end by flung-out furniture opens the Traverse's exquisitely realised double bill of seasonal but utterly grown-up plays. By the end of these two short works by Stephen Greenhorn and Rona Munro, however, designer Kai Fischer's gauze-shrouded white landscape has thawed considerably in a slow-burning and emotional show which, despite its title, is riven with all too recognisably human experience.

In the first piece, Greenhorn unravels a love affair between two women that rewinds from its final plague to its first flush as it moves from atop Arthur's Seat to a first kiss on Portobello Beach, and all points inbetween. Munro's follow-up work puts a woman in an initially adversarial situation with a real live polar bear. As the Bear channels the inner hunger of those she devours, both try to find their way home, be it in Abbeyhill or a winter wonderland far away.

Themes of mortality pulse both plays in productions directed respectively by Zinnie Harris and Orla O'Loughlin. There are heart-rending turns by Deborah Arnott and Karen Bartke as the first play's couple, Shula and Avril, while Kathryn Howden's blousy Jackie forms the oddest of alliances with Caroline Deyga's Bear in the second. There are lovely cameos too from Molly Innes.

Both works move at a stately pace that borders on the transcendentally woozy, a mood enhanced by a slowcore piano score by David Paul Jones. As each play eases its way gently beyond their initial chilliness towards something warmer, in different ways they become moving paeans to loss, healing and survival against all odds in this most painful and wildest of worlds.

The Herald, December 11th 2015

ends

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