Tracks of the Winter Bear
A touching break from Christmas' relentless commercial glamour
A seasonal antidote to the enforced jollity and dubious morality of pantomimes, the Traverse’s double bill of short plays by Rona Munro (The James Plays) and Stephen Greenhorn (Sunshine on Leith) presents a melancholic, but ultimately life-affirming, alternative Christmas. While Munro’s script has a more imaginative and theatrical take on the bear theme, both plays share a compassionate and gentle moral.
Greenhorn’s story begins in the evening, reversing time in a series of romantic scenes that unravel a relationship from tragic ending to optimistic beginnings. Adding in contemporary worries about the exclusion of lesbian partners from family, and a selection of additional characters to comment on the protagonist’s anxiety, Greenhorn builds a slight story into a seasonal meditation on love, loss and starting again.
Using an ensemble cast, and a long, thin stage positioned between two banks of the auditorium, Tracks balances between realism and fantasy: Munro's offering stars a polar bear devouring bodies and memories, and echoes the fairy-tale magic realism of The Snowman with a more adult tone. The heroine, ageing hedonist Jackie (Kathryn Howden), is confronted with her fears and disappointments, embodied not by the savage bear but a vision of her own possible future. Unlike Greenhorn’s tale, this feels more unfamiliar, as Jackie's apparent confidence is gradually peeled away, allowing her to show compassion for a fellow sufferer.
Both Orla O'Loughlin and Zinnie Harris direct with aplomb, giving the pace consistency and making the most of the strong cast. A gauze curtain shimmers across the stage, presenting the plays as timeless myths, beautifully captured as if in aspic. The themes – loneliness, exclusion, redemption and love – are lent a mythical depth, with both sets of tracks marking out a path to a more human and less commercial vision of the meaning of Christmas.