The Bear

Raymond Briggs
Pins & Needles Productions

Lori Hopkins, Max Tyler and Leigh Quinn with the Bear Credit: Jason Lock
Max Tyler, Lori Hopkins and Leah Quinn with Bear and friend Credit: Jason Lock

Raymond Briggs's story of the polar bear that comes into Tilly's life through her bedroom window is here given a prologue that portrays Tilly as a bit of a handful with a wild imagination and a reluctance to sleep, which fits well with what follows.

When mum (Lori Hopkins) eventually gets Tilly (Leigh Quinn) to go to bed, we see, in silhouette through the window, a bear coming closer and closer and eventually coming through the window as a wonderful life-sized puppet—well, at least the head and body and sometimes the feet—controlled by Max Tyler (who is also dad) and Lori Hopkins.

The bear nudges Tilly awake and they have various adventures without leaving the house, including a bath, dressing up in mum and dad's bedroom and finding something to eat in the kitchen, all of which result in a mess for Tilly to sort out. And, of course, nature takes its course and Tilly has something rather more disgusting to clear up—involving the audience in the disgust where possible.

There are some close similarities with Briggs's The Snowman and some significant departures. Both involve a child having adventures with a badly-behaved guest who is kept from the adults and who causes the child a lot of work, but there is a still a very close bond in a relationship that must end before the story finishes.

In this story, the adults are kept from the truth by their own incredulity—they never actually see the bear, despite its huge size, and assume Tilly is making it all up. This doesn't come across as clearly as in the book, where one of them actually says, "aaah! The wonderful world of a child's imagination."

For the ending of The Snowman, the boy is left bereft and alone in tears with the melted remains of his companion, but Tilly is comforted in the arms of her father as the bear treks across the ice and there is a suggestion, in the book, that he meets a friend. This is realised with imaginative simplicity in this production, although the meeting of a friend is made a bit too "cutesy" for a Briggs story—creating a very unlikely turn of events, particularly for a male polar bear.

There is some clever use of set to transform from one room to another (directors Emma Earle and Hal Chambers and designer Zoe Squire) but the changes take far too long, the choreographed movements of objects not helping this at all and sometimes, when accompanied by dialogue, not making sense narratively.

I saw the show in an auditorium packed with large parties of very small schoolchildren who seemed engaged throughout—in fact the only person I noticed going out to the toilet during the show was an adult.

Overall, this company has transformed a story that could be read in five minutes into a show of a little over an hour without it feeling too padded out, which is an achievement. There are songs, a bit of audience involvement when you may get wet from the bath, doused in fake snow or end up with polar bear poo in your lap and some great little design touches. For families with young children, it's got to be worth an hour of your time this Christmas.

Reviewer: David Chadderton

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