The Snow Bear
Chris Bostock with music by Ken Pattison
St Mary's Heritage Centre, Gateshead
Chris Bostock and Ken Pattison, who are Hearthside Tales, do precisely what the company name suggests: they tell stories.
This one, The Snow Bear, is for children aged from 4 to 7, although some younger children—and not a few adults—in the audience at the performance I saw were just as taken up by the story of the Snow Bear which is taken from its home in the Arctic to be given as a present to the King of Denmark, its adventures on the way and what happens when it ends up in the King's zoo.
They use every means they can to involve their audience—music (Pattison plays a range of instruments from ukelele to tuba), songs with actions, puppets of various kinds, asking the audience for help and advice and, occcasionally, to provide appropriate noises—and the children sitting on the carpet in front of them joined in enthusiastically. As, indeed, did the mams and dads who were sitting further back!
There's a gypsy caravan which opens up to reveal all kinds of different scenes, and there's a fireplace and a palace and a farm, lots of litle animals, a white glittery cloth which becomes the Arctic wastes, and there are elves and goblins and trolls and, because it's all based on Norwegian folk tales, a very old and crotchety Tomten who looks after the animals during the winter and doesn't like to be seen by humans.
The children had been invited to bring their own teddies and most did but, just so they wouldn't feel left out, those who hadn't were allowed to cuddle one of the dozen or so which were kept for this eventuality. I was given a polar bear and one of the ladies who guided us to our seats was upset because she said it was hers but I wouldn't let her have it. So there! Perhaps I hadn't quite got into the spirit of the thing at that stage...
The kids had, though, right from the start and the vast majority (there were one or two of the youngest who needed to run around a bit) sat fascinated and thoroughly enjoying themselves.
The Snow Bear has been touring in the north east and Cumbria since late November and continues to do so until 20 February. Full details are on the web site.
Reviewer: Peter Lathan