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Best of VAULT Festival
Review 2016

Gentle Tim


Director: Sinead O’Callaghan

Writers: Joseph Cullen

Music: Odinn Orn Hilmarsson
25 January - 20 March 2022

From Henry David Thoreau’s Walden to Jon Krakauer’s Into The Wild the pull that the wild has seems to be an unending part of our human condition. There is something quite freeing about the extreme type of wilderness that exists out there that allows the inner desire of individuals to release themselves from the shackles of a society.


Our burden it seems is that this ‘life’ can become suffocating and leaves us with little opportunity to truly be ‘free’ but for the likes of Timothy Treadwell the human spirit was able to find this freedom. His steadfast belief that bears had helped save him from drugs and alcohol gave him all the grounding he need to believe he now had to protect them in return.


In 2003 at the end of his 13th Summer at the Katmai National Park in Alaska Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard were killed by a brown bear. Their deaths made international news and became the subject of Werner Herzog’s award winning film Grizzly Man with Treadwell following many outsiders who have become cult hero’s.


When an audience knows the outcome of a play before they have even seen it the challenge for the playwright is to create a narrative that gives their audiences a different perspective of what they think they might know. Joseph Cullen’s text is honest in its depiction of Treadwell, his stubbornness and dislike of authority and his refusal to hurt the bears in anyway, but never tries to give him to much justification for his actions. Cullen leaves a few question marks around some of Treadwell’s reasons and actions yet he never denies Treadwell’s his sincerity, passion and love for what he believed. 


Cullen gives Treadwell a level of confidence that is somewhat mixed with a cocky self-assuredness that beggars belief at times. He is utterly convinced that he is there to protect the bears and refuses to acknowledge that his presence is having a detrimental effect on either him or the bears. The longer he ‘lives’ with the bears however the more he’s convinced of the relationship that he has been building with them.

The plays emotional tone hits you from the first moment Gentle Tim begins. Odinn Orn Hilmarsson’s music is urgently calming and is perfectly paired with Laura Meaton’s movement which creates something rather special between Treadwell and the bears which becomes unexpectedly effective. Meaton’s choreography presents the bears as gentle giants and somewhat playful but essentially harmless. 


"Timothy Treadwell is a difficult man to understand and Cullen, in both his text and performance, shows how Treadwell’s pigheaded determination led to him doing what he thought was right."

Each time the bears, Meaton, Marah Wilson, Jason Kajdi and Willian Uden, come onto the stage everything from the way that they walk and interact with one another to how they sit has an impact on you. This is carefully choreographed and it is through this movement the audience begins to understand why Treadwell’s could be so fascinated with these bears. 


But Cullen also shows how one-sided it all was and comes out during the moments when the bears sit around Treadwell. They act oblivious to him being there with their blank careless faces that look out into the vastness of their wilderness almost never registering him. With only a few incidents were he may have been placed in danger the bears seem content to leave him to his own devices. 


Perhaps it was this lack of initial interest from the bears that gave Treadwell his delusional confidence.  But who was he really protecting? Moreover what was he running from? One of the marks of a good play are the questions it leaves you with and walking away from Gentle Tim one does have a more than a few questions.


Over The Line Theatre present a very challenging debut production that gives the audiences a remarkable insight into a truly unique and damaged individual. Timothy Treadwell is a difficult man to understand and Cullen, in both his text and performance, shows how Treadwell’s pigheaded determination led to him doing what he thought was right. 


Sinead O’Callaghan’s direction is subtle and maintains the rich delicateness that is in Meaton movement, Hilmarsson’s music and Cullen’s text. O’Callaghan’s keeps all these parts working wonderfully tight together yet ensures that nothing is rushed and that at times the stillness that is produced allows the audiences to truly take in this experience.


By the end of the play you do feel that you understand Treadwell a little more but you are also left with the understanding that there was probably never going to be any getting through to this lost soul who had found his self appointed purpose in life.

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