Not Now, Bernard

Created by Sarah Argent, based on the book by David McKee
Unicorn Theatre (Weston Theatre)

Guy Rhys as Bernard Credit: Camilla Greenwell
Ben Adams as Dad, Bea Holland as Mum and Guy Rhys as Bernard Credit: Camilla Greenwell
Guy Rhys as the Monster Credit: Camilla Greenwell
Ben Adams as Dad and Guy Rhys as the Monster Credit: Camilla Greenwell

This is the simplest of stories, and one that is told with almost no dialogue, about a little boy whose parents are always too busy or otherwise occupied to give him attention.

Dad is too busy watching the football on the TV (and trying to ignore Mum too); mum is fussing about with her houseplant or cajoling dad to hang up a picture. When he does get round to it, Bernard distracts him and he hits his finger (the audience think that very funny!). Bandaged, he’s not going to risk further injury so she does it herself in the end.

Bernard has played with his space rocket and he’s bored but they keep saying, “not now, Bernard”. So he goes out into the garden. He tells us that’s what he does, just in case the audience don’t realise he is leaving the house (since the set has no walls). When he desultorily kicks his football behind a tree, someone, or something, kicks it back. It is then that he sees the monster and goes off to investigate. He doesn’t come back.

The monster is a big shadow on the backcloth and then he comes on stage nibbling a leg that still has a shoe on. “The monster ate Bernard,” he tells us.

Then the monster comes indoors, plays with Bernard’s toys, breaking things, reads Bernard’s comic, eats Bernard’s dinner, goes to sleep in his bed and mum and dad never even notice the monster; they just assume Bernard is there (which he is in a way, inside the Monster’s tummy).

This is a show aimed at 3- to 6-year-olds, but it's a situation other ages will recognise between parents and children. Is the monster real or Bernard’s invention? It could be seen as either, especially when played by the same actor.

This Monster is purple and shaggy-furred, a creature with horns and a shambling walk who rubs himself up against things like a bear and mumbles away in his own language.

He is both frightening and friendly and, when he goes round inspecting the front rows, a few seem frightened but most find him funny—or maybe the fun is in being frightened! When he sings along with the TV, they join in without prompting. They are shocked when he breaks a toy but love the way he scatters his dinner all over the carpet. Though his table manners may be terrible, his tastes are sophisticated for his soundtrack is a succession of popular classics.

In a play without dialogue, the music helps keep things moving. The birds in the garden in Owen Crouch’s sound score give way to mum’s old-fashioned playlist, dad’s football and the Monster’s TV twiddling.

Natalie Pryce’s setting provides a real-looking kitchen sink, sitting room and bedroom and outside a strong sort of garden where you might imagine a monster.

Sarah Argent delivers a production that keeps things simple with straightforward performances that suggest a close family, however pre-occupied, and it is always clear what is happening. The mixture of real and imagined exactly matches the story and manages to ensure you are not really worried that Bernard has been eaten.

But perhaps he hasn’t. Perhaps that big monster is really Bernard, the little monster that his parent’s might call him when he is being a nuisance. The youngsters I saw it with liked both of them.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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