The Three Bears at Christmas
Hannah Goudie-Hunter, Bob Nicholson & Brad McCormick
Northern Stage, Newcastle
There’s an old showbiz adage—“never work with children and animals”—but it’s not something you can avoid if you’re a children’s theatre company! Right at the start of The Three Bears at Christmas, Daddy Bear and Mammy Bear are telling the children about their little family and are introducing them to Baby Bear, when a little voice pipes up, “where’s Goldilocks?”
Ah well, that’s a good bit of the plot given away! But even the other children laughed, so not a major disaster then!
The show is aimed at the under-5s and, at the performance I saw, there were a couple of school parties—reception class, by the looks of it—and what looked like a nursery with kids of 3 and 4. It takes a lot to hold the attention of children that age for 45 minutes but Mammy Bear (Hannah Goudie-Hunter), Daddy Bear (Bob Nicholson) and Baby Bear (played by a Teddy Bear) manage it.
One of the reasons is that we are not watching something happen on a stage but are sitting deep in the dark wood with the children (and a lot of the adults—but not this reviewer!) sitting on the forest floor, surrounding the Bears’ home.
It’s an interesting home. It’s a tree and has a window and three beds and three chairs—but they don’t all look like beds or chairs because the Bears are the ultimate recyclers; they wander through the wood looking for useful things for their house.
The tree is quite magical, too, because it’s musical and Mammy Bear plays it like a vertical xylophone. But it’s not the only magical thing because there are little robins which fly around tweeting away and landing on the branches of their home.
The Bears love making music and singing—as an aside, I never ever expected to see a kids’ show in which one of the main songs is country and western! But what a great sing it is—and they also love getting the kids—sorry, the cubs, not kids—the cubs in the audience to sing along and wiggle and dance. And they want the big bears to join in as well.
As it’s nearly Christmas, Daddy Bear has made three Christmas puddings but they are a bit too hot to eat now so they leave them to cool while they go looking for useful things.
But while they are away, disaster strikes!
Goldilocks, a very naughty little girl who has been thrown out of the circus because she’s so bad (and rude—she loves blowing raspberries at people), arrives and wreaks havoc in the Bears’ home.
It’s an enjoyable, original and often quite magical take on the traditional story with marvellous puppets (Baby Bear, the Robins and the very naughty Goldilocks) by Ailsa Dalling, great music by regular Kitchen Zoo collaborator Jeremy Bradfield who, in this show, appears only in a recording, and the usual very clever and very effective set and costume design by Alison Ashton, nicely complemented by lighting by Richard Flood. Brad McCormick of Cap-a-Pie theatre directs and keeps the pace flowing so as to hold the attention of little minds which are easily distracted.
As ever, Hannah Goudie-Hunter and Bob Nicholson do everything they can to involve their little cubs, greeting them as they came in and saying goodbye (and being photographed with them) as they leave. They are, to be honest, natural actors for children's theatre.
This is Kitchen Zoo’s first Christmas show. Let’s hope there are many more like this to come.