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Review: One Bear at The Studio, Sydney Opera House

By Guy Webster

It’s been over two years since sisters, Candy Bowers and Kim ‘Busty Beatz’ Bowers first created the hip-hop theatrical epic ‘One Bear’. Transforming The Studio at Sydney Opera House into a neon dystopia that screams Mad Max meets underground rave, One Bear is a ground breaking musical hybrid that brings some much needed vitality to the tired genre of ‘edutainment’. Over a tightly wound hour, One Bear takes us into a parallel universe where Brown Bears are subject to the oppressive whims of authoritarian Hunters. Forced to shave their claws and dull their teeth, Brown-bear best friends One and Ursula live in a guerrilla hide out away from the dangers of the surrounding city. Feasting on cereal, the occasional cookie and the addictive ‘Glow’, One and Ursula dream of a world where Brown Bears are treated equally. They want to ‘empower the bear-hood’, they say with ‘Heath, Freedom and Fish’. Candy Bowers plays One, a gifted rapper who looks to empower bear kind with her lyrical genius and musical prowess. With a natural magnetism and confidence, Bowers sits in the rhythms and lyrics in a way that only one who helped write them can. Ashleyrose Gilham plays Ursula (as well as a slew of sleazy music producers), an initial supporting character to One who gets left behind by her burgeoning music career until she finally – and spectacularly - takes a stand. With such a small cast, the production’s effectiveness rests squarely on the shoulders of Bowers and Gilham. It is hardly surprising to note, then, that this production has enjoyed such widespread success since its premier two years ago. Bowers and Gilham are a perfect team. Their energy built progressively over the hour, and in front of a 5pm audience that were generally reticent to any attempts at audience involvement. Still, Bowers and Gilham soldiered on through growling rap numbers and the occasional splash of emotional ballad. That being said, the pair were at their best at the ‘tail’-end of the production when they were allowed the freedom to improvise – much to the char grin of the audience.

This production is unafraid to tackle a range of complex issues. Under the measured hand of Bowers’ writing, institutional racism is allegorized without being censored or retrofitted to appeal to a younger audience. This is a production that projects racial slurs on grey netting in increasingly large font. This is a production that does not shy away from the thornier aspects of race relations, body image or discrimination. Instead, it packages these varied topics with sincerity, honesty and some incredibly catchy tunes. While I felt some parents bristle at the more sexual references or the metaphorical drug, ‘Glow’, these references were part of the show’s overarching commitment to telling its story honestly (if still with comedic undertones). Plus, with stunning visuals by Jason Wing and an eye-catching costume design by Sarah Seahorse, this production floods the genre of edutainment with equal parts activism, unbridled fun and ‘freedom and fish’.

The show opens with ‘We Are Golden’ projected on the towering netting at the back of the stage. With top tapping rhythms and razor-sharp lyrics, you’ll find this golden luminescence infiltrates you the minute you walk into The Studio and carries on the minute you leave it. Do yourself a favour and head to the Opera House to catch this multi-modal joy, you won’t regret it.

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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