Review: The Bear at Pleasance Courtyard

In Pins and Needles Productions’ adaptation of Raymond Briggs’ The Bear, children and adults alike are left in a captivated daze.

Even among the garish colours and frenetic energy of children’s theatre, Briggs’ soft-around-the-edges, dreamlike quality remains ever-present.

The story closely resembles Raymond Briggs’ other classic, The Snowman, both featuring a small child, an imaginary friend, and a bittersweet ending. This time it centres around Tilly, our onesie-clad hero of an ambiguous age, and her doting parents.

Tilly’s rampant imagination can be a handful, as illustrated by the stage-right gulp of wine Tilly’s mother pantomimes (in solidarity with all the parents in the audience). It comes as no surprise, therefore, when Tilly conjures up a massive polar bear climbing through her bedroom window.  

The eponymous bear in question is represented by a massive puppet, which somehow manages to be both clumsy and ethereal. The bear requires two actors just to operate—one at the feet and the other holding up the body— and in this case, mum and dad handle the mechanics. However, what at first felt like a way of cutting corners—i.e. minimising the number of paid actors—ended up being a useful plot device by never allowing the parents and the Bear to be in the same room, leaving the audience to decide whether the bear is real or a figment of Tilly’s imagination.

For those too young to follow such themes, however, the show still had plenty to offer for shorter attention spans, with bubbles, sound effects, and audience interaction galore. This balancing act of all the audience’s needs was perhaps The Bear’s greatest success, managing to mesmerise the children while tugging at the heartstrings of the adults.

The Bear, Pleasance Courtyard, 8-27 Aug (not 20), 12pm

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