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Review: WE'RE GOING ON A BEAR HUNT, Little Angel Theatre

Review: WE'RE GOING ON A BEAR HUNT, Little Angel Theatre

A beautiful puppetry adaptation of Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury's classic picture book

5 stars

There can't be many families that don't have a copy of We're Going on a Bear Hunt. Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury's picture book has been a staple of children's bookshelves since it was first published in 1989.

The enduring classic even inspired real-life bear hunts around the world during the 2020 lockdowns, with many families putting bears in their windows for local children to spot during their daily walks. This Christmas, Little Angel Theatre revives its fantastic adaptation which brings the story to life on stage.

Adapted by Peter Glanville and Barb Jungr, We're Going on a Bear Hunt takes the essence of the picture book and develops it into a 45-minute puppetry production. The young audience is transfixed from the moment the cast of four puppeteers (Nix Wood, Mark Esaias, Edward Wren and Lowri James) march into the auditorium chanting the familiar refrain from the book. And when they take up their positions behind Simon Plumridge's huge puppet theatre, Helen Oxbury's familiar illustrations leap onto the stage in the form of Lyndie Wright's beautiful puppets.

Those familiar with the book might question how it can possibly be stretched out into a 45-minute show but it's expertly done by Glanville and Jungr, with dialogue and songs adding a greater depth to the narrative. It's less repetitive than the book but never loses the spirit of the source material. There are also some nice little things thrown in for the adults, including a well-received Bear Grylls joke.

It's a gorgeous piece of theatre, which is performed by an incredibly talented cast. The puppets are exquisitely operated by the four puppeteers, who endow the human puppets with an impressively lifelike quality as they swish, swim, squelch and stumble-trip their way through the familiar pages of the story. There are moments of mild peril along the way before they eventually find the bear and have to hurtle home.

The folky songs (with music and lyrics by Barb Jungr) are an absolute highlight of this delightful production, featuring guitar and harp accompaniment as well as some rousing acapella numbers. It's a real joy to hear such beautifully crafted songs in a production aimed at young children.

The show is recommended for ages 3 to 8 and it's well suited to that age range. Adults will appreciate the artistry of the production as well as enjoy witnessing the reactions of the children around them. The auditorium is filled with infectious giggles throughout, with the bear puppet producing an especially animated response. It's not so menacing as to terrify the toddlers but just scary enough to draw delighted shrieks as it roams the audience with a gentle roar. There are also some opportunities for children to shout out during the performance, as well as a rousing final number for everyone to clap along with.

We're Going on a Bear Hunt is exactly what good children's theatre should be. It's beautifully constructed, skilfully performed, and more than does justice to the beloved book on which it's based. It's also almost sold out already, so grab tickets fast to avoid missing out on this run.

We're Going on a Bear Hunt at Little Angel Theatre until 29 January 2023

Photo Credit: Little Angel Theatre

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