Monday, 23 September 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: The Bear - The Dukes Theatre, Lancaster


Pins & Needles Productions’ mission is to “engage and inspire” young audiences. Their adaptation of Raymond Briggs’ beloved picture book “The Bear” was seen this afternoon at the Dukes, Lancaster by the Assistant Reviewer, aged five, and myself. The Assistant Reviewer loves theatre, but he did not love this, and spent most of the performance providing his own commentary while performing step aerobics with his seat.

A big, big problem was the puppetry that was being used. The Bear, an enormous polar bear that squeezes through a little girl’s bedroom window and then stays at her house for a while, causing havoc, was very unevenly presented. The actual puppet was constructed from a realistic bear’s head, and then a series of white hoops covered in fluttering white rags that looked like feathers, and just two paws, usually the front ones, were being used at any point of time. Sometimes the actors who were operating the puppet got the movement down quite well, and other times they didn’t, and the paws at times did drift to underneath the Bear’s stomach in a very unnatural fashion. Assistant Reviewer: “Why does the Bear look like a chicken?”

The actors kept on their brightly-coloured clothing while operating the Bear, making the suspension in disbelief even harder. For some reason, in the final scene in the Arctic they wore clothing in white and grey, which greatly helped the illusion, and I’m not sure why the director did not use this costuming for the rest of the show. But then, the direction overall betrayed a limited understanding of how suspension of disbelief works. This is a big mistake when doing children’s theatre: children are experts at the art of “Let’s Pretend”, and the Assistant Reviewer did not miss anything.

A grumpy cat with a huge black stick impaled into the back of its head (please repaint the stick in a neutral colour!) regularly forgot the laws of gravity, and had a tendency to exit via a corner of the kitchen ceiling. Assistant Reviewer: “Why is the cat flying?”

The Bear generated a large pool of urine – indicated through a deluge of little golden stars – onto the kitchen floor, and the little girl sang a whole song about it being there, and how she was trying to mop it up. And then it was left. On the stage. For the entire second half of the show, regardless of the many changes in location. Assistant Reviewer regularly checked on this, with: “Why is there wee on the floor?”

Every time the Bear exited, he would be literally pulled apart by the actors, running off in three different directions with the head, body and paws. The first time it happened it was quite a jolt, like seeing that medieval torture practice of tying an unlucky person to four horses to be pulled apart. Assistant Reviewer: “Why are they ripping up the Bear?”

At a very delicate and poignant moment in the Arctic, the actors stood in a special spot and started shivering. There was silence. Then there was a noise of what sounded like several industrial-sized leaf-blowers roaring through the theatre. This apparently was the snow machine, judging by the shower of dandruff that then drifted down onto the actors. Where’s a silent tilt-box mechanism when you need one?

The music veered in two directions, though it was created by one composer. During the haunting moments it favoured choral voices, gentle guitar and a bit of strings, and was rather pretty and atmospheric. Other times though, it was doing pop – badly. Bland electronic bleeping like elevator music undercut the more upbeat scenes, and this is doing children a disservice: – they know and respond to good pop music from a very early age.

At last it was curtain call. The Assistant Reviewer, who had been asking “Is it ending now?” for the last fifteen minutes, surveyed the bravely smiling cast standing in their arctic wilderness and said firmly: “When are they going to clean up the wee?”

Reviewer - Thalia Terpsichore
on - 21/9/19

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