The Bear @ Pleasance Courtyard

This stage version of Raymond Briggs’ children's novel is all heart with misplaced ambition

Review by Dominic Corr | 08 Aug 2018

Adapted from Raymond Briggs’ novel of the same name, which follows a young girl named Tilly and her friendship with a polar bear who enters through her bedroom window one night, this production infuses musical numbers and outlandishly bright set-pieces with utterly stunning puppetry to offer an escape for an hour. What makes this production sing is the astonishing work Pins and Needles has done in creating the title character itself. There’s a keen sense, however, that The Bear relied too heavily on this puppet, with Briggs' story not elaborated on enough to stretch to an hour’s stage time.

As you enter, Tilly is already interacting with the audience and will continue to involve them throughout. As the creature first reveals itself, sniffing through the girl's window, you start to forget about the weak musical numbers and lack of plot. Other sequences with the Bear a less magical, clunky even, and reveals far too much of the puppet's workings, though credit for being inventive. When these sequences do work – such as when the Bear takes a bath – they capture the mood perfectly; when they fail, it drags.

Perplexing tonal choices are made during the production. Some heartily welcomed moments of refinement are attempted, but they contrast sharply against the majority of the show, which, quite rightly, is targeted to a much younger audience. Why the Bear is even visiting Tilly to begin with is left unexplained – while children's productions don't require a grand narrative, something to test their intelligence would be appreciated.

The Bear is all heart with misplaced ambition. The show is entertaining, offering staggeringly impressive puppetry work and fine performances from the actors. This, however, cannot really save it from a meatless plot with poor musical numbers. It needs to either give over to its outlandish style or embrace the more serious tone it tries to take.

The Bear, Pleasance Courtyard (Pleasance Beyond), 2-27 Aug (not 20), 12pm, £11.00/£9.50

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