The Bearskinner | The Duck HousePhoto – Jacqueline Jane

The Duck House is a young theatre company from Perth, graduates of a performance course at Edith Cowan University, who bring their show The Bearskinner to Theatreworks following a successful WA season in 2009. The play is an innovative take on a Brothers Grimm fairy tale about how not to sell your soul to the devil.

Conceptually speaking, The Bearskinner is fun, comprising varied witty and whimsical approaches to story telling. Alissa Claessens stands out with her spunky performance as one of the devil’s mistresses, as does writer/performer Ian Sinclair as the smarmy punning devil. There are some really nice theatrical touches and devices, the group’s commitment to not relying on text to tell the story makes for some original and refreshing theatre with amusing imagery, delightful to see. The story could be developed further to blend the fabulous with the personal in a way that really brings the audience in; it could sustain the fable aspect but play more with discrete characters that come across as individuals to create more depth and interest; this would take it to another level.

The play opens with a song accompanied by piano, setting up an expectation of musical theatre; a questionable tactic when the show isn’t really a musical. Moreover, musical talent here is lacking, to the point where the songs are actually hard to listen to – harsh but it needs to be said. The vocals are mostly drowned out by the abrasive piano playing.

The Bearskinner doesn’t quite deliver a satisfying night of theatre because, not only is the music awful but the pace doesn’t vary; the scenes and dialogue are delivered in an even and increasingly monotonous tempo – some new direction is sorely needed. There are laughs to be had and one of the piece’s strengths is how it balances light and dark but again, in the parts where song is used, the show falls down sadly. The Bearskinner character, played by the rather splendidly named St John Cowcher (who can actually sing) could be given more airtime; as it is his characterisation pales in comparison to Sinclair’s devil. The Bearskinner character would benefit from more individuality so he could hold his own instead of coming across as simple and earnest.

Lighting, by Karen Cook, is professional, sensitive and effective. Overall, you get the impression that most members of this young ensemble have real potential and are worth keeping an eye on.


The Duck House and Theatre Works present
The Bearskinner
based on a tale by the Brothers Grimm | adapted by Ian Sinclair

Director Kathryn Osborne

Venue: Theatre Works | 14 Acland St, St Kilda
Dates: 15 June – 3 Jul 2011
Times: 8:00pm Tue to Sat / 5:00pm Sun
Tickets: $25 full / $15 conc / $10 preview, Tuesday & group 10+ [plus booking fee]
Bookings: 9534 3388 | www.theatreworks.org.au