You can always feel a particular kind of excitement in an auditorium, before “curtain up”, when a significant proportion of the audience are (a) less than five years old, and (b) waiting for quite possibly one of their favourite books to be recreated on stage. It’s an audience buzz that’s surely a gift for any cast, so it’s a slight disappointment that this touring production of Michael Rosen’s much-loved tale of exploration doesn’t quite seem to be able to make the most of it, even while relying on the kind of audience participation—Q&As, a lot of “It’s Behind you!” screaming, and some very big water pistols—not normally seen outside of the panto season.
The sets and elements are bright and colourful; the songs and music lively and remarkably diverse in their cultural influences
We’re going on a bear hunt.
We’re going to catch a big one.
What a beautiful day!
We’re not scared.
Admittedly, there’s plenty to enjoy. The sets and elements are bright and colourful; the songs and music lively and remarkably diverse in their cultural influences; and the successive barriers encountered in the family’s bear hunt—long grass, a stream, squelchy mud, a forest, a snowstorm, a cave—are recreated in ways that even the young audience can obviously relate to. The cast (who emerge from the back of the audience, supposedly looking for wildlife) are bright and friendly, especially Michael Jean-Marain as a particularly gangly, physically awkward Son, although the biggest audience sympathies are arguably given to musician Louis Gulliver King, who doubles as the family’s Dog, and a puppet baby shared among the cast. “Dad” Joseph Carey, while well-meaning, doesn’t quite seem “big” enough on stage to hold some of the audience’s attention, although Rebecca Newman comes across well as the Daughter who is sometimes determined to catch her father’s attention.
We can’t go over it.
We can’t go under it.
We’ve got to go through it!
The script is careful enough not to add too much to the original narrative, although there’s a certain delight in concepts such as migrating moles. Quite rightly, the verbal repetitions at the heart of the original story are retained, forming reassuring links in an easily understood chain that is speedily reversed at the climax. The big reveal, while hardly surprising (given the title of the show) nevertheless has some real impact, although it can’t be said to be quite as scary as the characters’ own actions actually suggest. Thankfully, this definitely isn’t the kind of exit, pursued by bear, that William Shakespeare had in mind!
Yes, this show could possibly be a bit broader and bolder, but there’s plenty of fun to be had here none the less.