Theatre Review: THE BEAR – Waterside Arts Centre, Manchester

Dazzling, dreamy and lavished with care, THE BEAR is children’s theatre at its best

Mention the name Raymond Briggs, especially at Christmas, and THE SNOWMAN will most likely spring to mind. So when Pins and Needles Productions announced they were to bring a Briggs classic to life on stage (following the success of FATHER CHRISTMAS in 2014), I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was THE BEAR that was to be adapted for stage.

Written by Briggs in 1994, THE BEAR tells the story of young Tilly who is delighted when an enormous snowy white polar bear clambers through her bedroom window one night. Embarking on a wild and magical adventure, the pair enjoy bath times and hunting for honey in the kitchen. But as well as being a cosy beast to cuddle up to, the bear also begins to make trouble, wreaking havoc in the house and defecating all over the kitchen floor, leaving little Tilly to clear up and it isn’t long before Tilly soon begins to wonder whether her house is really the best home for her new fluffy friend.

With its dazzling puppetry, catchy songs and dreamy storytelling, Pins and Needles adaption of THE BEAR is children’s theatre at its best. Performed against Zoe Squire’s brightly coloured set, every moment in this production is lavished with love and care. The magical touches are grounded in reality, the songs are short and catchy and even the scene changes feel like a game.

But the real joy of the show is Samuel Wyer’s huge puppet polar bear which is controlled by “mum” and “dad”. Made up of giant rings covered in white fur and a beautifully expressive face, this giant yet gentle creature looks both powerful and cuddly as it lollops and grunts around the stage. While its deep roar made a couple of younger children initially cling to their parents, it wasn’t long before they were memorised by its big, cuddly frame and naughty antics, delivering a few roars of their own by the end of the show.

It was also nice to see Waterside Arts encourage the children to come to the show in their pyjamas and bring along a teddy, which made it all the more special for the little ones.

If you’re looking for a witty and warm production with love and family at its core, THE BEAR is sure to deliver. An enchanting and engaging production for all the family to enjoy.

4 out of 5 stars

THE BEAR runs Waterside Arts Centre until 6 January 2018