After extensive touring, We're Going on a Bear Hunt settles in the daytime slots at the Lyric, Shaftesbury Avenue this month.
Based on the much loved Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury book, Bear Hunt is an affectionate little show which manages to pad out the five minute read-it-out-loud story to 55 minutes of gentle but energetic fun. The plot is of course a non-plot. Nothing much happens. A dad leads his son, daughter and baby on an ursine pursuit, through (never under, never over, oh no!) a forest, river, mud and a snowstorm. They meet a bear. The end.
And yet, as Rosen realised when he wrote his bestseller, it's the kids' imaginations that fill in the big blanks and here at the Lyric they're given a little help (..as are the parents, who weren't as good on the old imagination front in the first place!)
The four-man show rolls along wonderfully on the crest of its catchy theme tune which I guarantee you'll be humming for days afterwards. There's Dad, straightforward but ebullient, who keeps everyone safe ("Don't worry. Dad's here"), played by Duncan Foster, who created the character for the piece and has been performing it ever since. Then there's the daughter (Rowena Lennon) and son (Gareth Warren), and the highly effective cloth puppet baby who appears at the beginning and the end of show but disappears for a kip in a cardboard box in the more strenuous middle.
Oh, and there's Buddy of course, the playful dog. Played by Ben Harrison in a pair of dungarees, a flying ace's hat and bottle glasses that bounce up and down on his face like a pair of wobbly tits, he also doubles up as a musician, often bounding off to his one-man-band set-up at the side of the stage. Kazoos, basic percussion, a uke, and an oboe are used to create a unique atmosphere of British eccentricity that fits in perfectly with the non-story (although bears? In Britain? I've always thought that odd).
The props are basic, the forest being represented by broom handles with green fronds of material attached, the river by blue buckets, the mud by paint and the snowstorm....well, I'll leave that as a nice little surprise. All I will say is don't wear your best clothes! Megaphones are shouted into, and old panto tricks utilized well, and there's even a bit of Morris dancing and some Bavarian thigh-slapping all served up with unthreatening, smile-inducing vim.
Do we get to see the bear? We sure do, and he's as far away from grrrrrrr as you can imagine, running onto the stage to Keystone Cops-style piano tinkling, while the kids in the audience shout wild and heartfelt warnings to the characters they know and have come to love.
Often, shows for children are endurance tests for the adults in their lives, but Bear Hunt bridges that gap and creates chaotic fun for all ages to enjoy. Highly recommended.