10:28AM, Tuesday 10 December 2019
My partner and I were somewhat apprehensive about taking our two-year-old son on his first trip to the theatre to see The Bear at Norden Farm.
But I’m so pleased that we did because this production is an absolute joy!
We went to see a special morning showing for babies and toddlers and were delighted to discover that laughing, jumping in your seat, running up and down the aisles and shouting ‘mummy, daddy, a bear!’ at the top of his voice were not only tolerated but positively encouraged, with the performers seemingly feeding off the young ones’ energy and excitement.
For those who haven’t read The Bear, or seen a production of it before (which I hadn’t), it’s based on a book by Raymond Briggs and is adapted by Pins and Needles Productions. There are some strong similarities between this and some of Briggs’ other stories, most notably The Snowman.
It’s a magical adventure in which a polar bear comes to visit a young girl called Tilly, arriving through her bedroom window in the middle of the night and then making himself cosy in her bed. He’s enormous, has ‘a huge black tongue and yawn as big as your head’. He could eat her up in one bite, but Tilly’s not scared.
An adventure ensues as the pair of them gallivant around the house, turning it upside down – somehow without being spotted by Tilly’s parents – who see the bear as a figment of Tilly’s imagination.
In between times Tilly tries to give the Bear a bath, much to the delight of the kids in the audience who were squirted with water guns as the bear lolloped about in the tub. My son Alex shouted ‘bubbles, bubbles, bubbles daddy’ as Tilly attempted to shampoo and then dry the bear.
The puppetry of the bear is incredible. In a similar manner to the stage show War Horse the Bear’s head, torso and feet are skilfully moved around stage by the three actors in the production and somehow – now this is the magical part – it comes to life. It certainly did for Alex who was enthralled from the moment the lights went up.
Like a whirlwind the Bear moved around the set, through various rooms, creating havoc and sending stuff flying wherever he went to screams of laughter from the audience. When Tilly had to clear up the Bear’s poo, a big brown cushion, it ended up being hurled into the first few rows and bounced around the stalls to squeals of excitement.
The staging is excellent, and cleverly done, with the actors moving around props as the story navigated from the bedroom to the bathroom and the kitchen. And I think everyone in the audience was captivated and touched by the ending, which I won’t spoil but was just wonderful.
I loved this production and would recommend it for all families with young children. It’s a great alternative or supplement to the traditional Christmas panto. Inventive, skilfully done and enthusiastically acted it gets a big thumbs up from me and, at just an hour long, it’s perfect for little ones, even just turned two-year-olds who probably aren’t quite ready for this sort of thing yet. (Do check and see when the more relaxed shows are taking place!).
But, not only did Alex love the show, he also got to spend time in Tilly’s den, a specially constructed area created to run alongside the show by the artist Amelia Pimlott and students from the Berkshire College of Agriculture (BCA). He was just as excited by this. We read him story books, he got to bash pots and pans, crawl through fairy-lit tunnels and sit on a polar bear in a colourful den. I expected we’d just go and see the performance but ended up spending a good few hours enjoying the entertainment at Norden Farm.
There are daily showings of The Bear at Norden Farm, apart from Christmas Day, until Sunday, December 29.
Raymond Briggs The Bear: Pins and Needles Productions