Michael Rosen's classic picture book We're Going On A Bear Hunt is a firm favourite bedtime read in my house. My three-year-old daughter and 18-month-old son love the repetition, alliteration and onomatopoeic sounds in the verse (even if they have no idea yet what such literary terms mean!).
They adore the sense of adventure as the family hunt for a bear, through long wavy grass, a deep cold river, thick oozy mud, a big dark forest, a swirling whirling snowstorm and finally tiptoeing into a narrow, gloomy cave.
You can sense their anticipation as it becomes clear just who the one shiny wet nose, two big furry ears and two big goggly eyes belong to, and the excitement as the pace quickens and the family flee back home, hiding under the bed clothes and vowing never to go on a bear hunt again.
Yet even with my daughter demanding we read pages several times over, it never takes us more than 10 minutes to finish the book.
So when I booked tickets for my family to see the live stage adaptation of the award-winning book in our hometown of Cardiff, I was intrigued to know how they would transform this well-loved and cherished tale and song into a 55-minute performance.
I wondered how they would recreate the grass, river, snowstorm, and mud. I wondered how they would bring to life Helen Oxenbury's beautiful, traditional drawings from the book that is become so important to millions of families since it was first published in 1989.
My daughter wondered whether the bear would be scary, I assured her it wouldn't be – and kept my fingers crossed I would be right.
In short, the show is delightfully engaging, wonderfully entertaining and incredibly imaginative. From the opening scenes where the cast walk through the auditorium, asking us to tell them what a bear looks like, the audience is gripped.
The show is aimed at children between three and seven and there are lots of younger tots present, too – not the kind of audience to sit still and quiet for an hour, so this audience participation sets the tone for what is to come.
There's plenty of singing, with the audience encouraged to join in with the "We're going on a bear hunt / We're going to catch a big one / What a beautiful day / We're not scared" refrain that most seem familiar with from the book.
The cast get messy with water, paint and glittery paper much to the amusement of the young audience members. And the bear has just enough of a comical edge to not frighten the smaller members of the audience.
My one small gripe is that the mum who features in the book is completely absent from the stage show, meaning the bear hunting is left to dad (played by Duncan Foster), his son (Gareth Warren), daughter (Rowena Lennon), baby (a puppet/doll) and the family's percussion-and-guitar-playing dog (Ben Harrison).
All give lively, animated performances, fully-immersing themselves in their roles, engaging with the audience and looking as though they love all the mess that is created on stage.
My 18-month-old is not the kind of boy to sit still for five minutes, let alone 55. But rather than clambering all over the chairs as I had worried, he sat on my lap mesmerised for the entire show, laughing, dancing and yelping with excitement.
As we got ready to leave the theatre, my three-year-old daughter looked upset. "What's wrong? Is it the bear?" I asked her. "No, he wasn't scary at all," she replied.
"I don't want to go home. I want to go on a bear hunt again. Please can we go on a bear hunt again, Mummy?"
Surely you can't get much higher praise than that? This is perfect family entertainment.
We're Going On A Bear Hunt is currently touring the UK and will be at the following theatres. For more information, visit Bearhuntlive.com.
The Radlett Centre, Radlett
Thursday 28 – Friday 31 May 2013 (01923 859291)
Forum Theatre, Billingham
Tuesday 18th – Wednesday 19th June 2013 (01642 552663)
Arts Depot, North Finchley
Saturday 29th – Sunday 30th June 2013 (020 8369 5454)
Lyric Theatre, Shaftsbury Avenue, London
Wednesday 3rd July – Sunday 1st September (0844 412 4661)
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