By Anja Bless
One the Bear, showing at Arts Centre Melbourne, is a dynamic and interactive piece of activist theatre. Written and conceptualised by artists and sisters Candy Bowers and Kim ‘Busty Beatz’ Bowers of Black Honey Company, this is hip-hop dripping with powerful rhymes for young people and the young at heart.
Before the show even begins, the audience are amped up, practicing their ‘growl’ to help empower the bears on stage through the show. One (Candy Bowers) and her furry best friend Ursula (Ashleyrose Gilham) keep the energy up and through the roof from lights up to lights down. They draw the audience into their world, a parallel universe where bears are hunted for their bile and body parts to fuel lust and drug addiction of the hunters. The bears are oppressed by the hunters, living off garbage and junk food, forced to shave down their teeth and suppress their ‘growl’. They’re painted as drug addicts to justify the oppression, while their organs are harvested in the dark of night.
As the show and the interactions between One and the hunters begins to unfold, it becomes clear that this universe is not so parallel after all.
One the Bear cleverly smuggles in its activism, taking the audience along for the ride whilst also evoking serious considerations of how the bears could easily be many communities of colour trying to find a place in our neo-colonial world full of hunters.
The lighting, set and costumes elevate One the Bear to an almost psychedelic level, at once children’s dress ups and drug fantasy. They help propel One’s journey into stardom, and capture her demise into a pattern often seen when people of the African diaspora are treated as commodities by major production companies.
The show deftly jumps from issues of drug abuse, racial violence, exploitation and cultural appropriation, to themes friendship, family and spirituality. One critique could be perhaps that it does cut this momentum a little short. With an ending that didn’t ring as clearly as the majority of the show, and left audience members perhaps wanting a little more.
Although being left wanting more is not always a bad thing in theatre, and it will be exciting to see where Black Honey Company go next. The world needs more theatre like this; raw, real, and told by storytellers who speak from the heart and from experience. They capture your attention and demand you stop, listen and think. If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend catching One the Bear in Melbourne or beyond. It will be a night full of laughter, thought provoking rhymes, joy and sadness. You will likely leave with a smile on your face, but also a seed planted in your brain. Helping to grow and nurture our own critical lenses of race relations in Australia and around the world, of what it means to respect the autonomy of culture. To help diversity thrive, rather than become commodified.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.