The long-established leader of London children's theatre has brought together top-notch talent to create one of the most cherished shows in many seasons: Michael Rosen's timeless classic, Going on a Bear Hunt. Boasting exquisite puppets crafted by the founder of The Little Angel Theatre, Lyndie Wright, the show is further complimented by Barb Jungr's fantastically executed original score. The Angel's long-standing, talented artistic director, Peter Glanville, has brilliantly brought this endearing story to life. This production has assembled a powerhouse of creative talent drawing on London children's theatre's leading luminaries to create an imaginative and highly entertaining puppet show for young and old alike.
The puppets are true to their well-known characters, they look so much like Helen Oxenbury's portrayal of them, including details like the baby's sagging pink suit; the girls' long, straggly hair; and the dad's woolly jumper. The focus of the story is walking and the puppets are masterfully engineered to make their very footsteps part of the story. The dog is cleverly executed, there are momentary glimpses when you think there might actually be one on the set. My four year old theatre companions particularly enjoyed a hilarious sequence where the baby is made to swim. We all enjoyed the duality of the bear; his part-scariness and part-confoundedness comes across just as subtlety as in the story.
The sets are delightfully rendered; the main elements of the story are brought to life with beautifully simple, but imaginative use of props, music and lighting. The swishy grass; deep, cold river; thick, oozing mud; the deep, dark forest; the swirling, whirling snowstorm, and cave are at times concretely portrayed, and other times merely suggested.
For me, what was particularly enjoyable was the suburb quality of music. Here is where the production captures one of the most enchanting elements of children's theatre. Barb Jungr, London's leading lady of song, created a score that is rich and at the same time Spartan, using just a few instruments and simple, three and four part harmonies by skilled vocalists. This is not the usual solo sung against recorded orchestration; this is live music throughout the show. The songs vary from folksy to bluesy to a final Mumford and Sons-esque foot stomping anthem "We're Not Going on a Bear Hunt Anymore". My four year old son, his best mate and I sang it hand-in-hand, marching the entire walk down Upper Street to the underground, and are still singing it today.
I could not help thinking that Michael Gove (decimator of state education ... I mean the Secretary of State for Education) is lurking in the wings of the theatre of this production. Recently Rosen and Gove have been sparring in the press over the teaching grammar. Rosen has rightly called Gove out on the proposed de-emphasis of language-rich, inspiring literacy lessons like "story theatre" that Going on a Bear Hunt lends itself to so superbly; in exchange for emphasised sit and learn, skill and drill, test and fail, lessons on spellings and grammar. Surely if Michael Gove were to sit in Little Angel Theatre for Going on a Bear Hunt, he would have his cold heart warmed and rethink the value of arts in education, see how they aid the kind of reasoning and critical thinking that culminate in a society's true mark of success: superb works of collaborative art.
Going on a Bear Hunt at The Little Angel Theatre is showing now through 21st July. Tickets are £12 each, but Friday 5pm matinees are for £5. The show is suitable for children over the age of 2. 11am Sunday performances are for families with children under 2 years old.