The Bear at Leeds Playhouse on 18 February

Maria Forryan and her son discover a visual treat for children – and it’s pure entertainment for any accompanying adults!

Anyone with a small child knows the delights of sitting through some pretty horrendous TV shows or films, wondering why on earth your child is mesmerised by them. So you’ll be delighted to know that Leeds Playhouse has found a show for young children that is captivating for adults, too. 

Raymond Briggs’ enchanting story ‘The Bear’ is a highly creative visual feast, presented by award-winning theatre company Pins and Needles Productions. The play follows the energetic, bubbly character of Tilly, played enthusiastically by Abby Wain, as she befriends a giant polar bear that sneaks into her bedroom one night. Desperate to keep her new warm and cuddly friend in the house, she entertainingly tries to house train it. This leads to some hilarious, and very clever, scenes of bath washing, feeding and dressing. Tilly learns first-hand how frustrating it can be for someone not to behave exactly as you want them to (which all the parents in the audience can relate to!). 

The acting in the production is energetic, stylised and exaggerated in a way that keeps young children engaged. The frequent use of upbeat live music and creative puppetry, which includes a cat and several fish as well as the giant polar bear, adds to the magic. The overall quality of the production is in line with some of the best children’s theatre companies in the UK, such as sublime Theatre Alibi. 

Control of the puppets is particularly skilful, operated by the cast of three themselves. Elena Stephenson and John Winchester, who play the disbelieving but supportive parents, do the majority of the controlling and hide the work expertly to make the puppetry truly come to life for the children. 

The show is the product of a unique director/designer collaboration between the partnership of Emma Earle and Zoe Squire and this is evident in the sense of unity and focus that the whole show carries. The set itself is extremely clever and slickly moved, again by the cast, meaning that the pace of the show is very fast, involving perfectly executed actions and creative direction which further add to the energy, meaning your small child will be gripped from start to finish.

The show is advertised for 3-8 year olds but my son, who is nearly 2, thoroughly loved it and hardly moved in the whole 55 mins, other than to cheer in delight at every appearance of the polar bear. The show isn’t too harsh on the ears either, meaning that quite a few parents happily brought small babies along whilst their older siblings watched the show. The stewards also provided some brilliant booster seats for the smaller children, meaning they had a great view of the stage: a fantastic idea! Pre-show entertainment in the form of a randomly popping out teddy bear from behind the set (in various comedy guises) meant that children were gripped from the moment they walked into the theatre.

It may not be the cheapest thing you can do over half-term, but I can’t recommend this show enough for a younger child. It’s visually compelling, engaging, cultural and most importantly…it’s actually interesting for adults too. Congratulations, Leeds Playhouse, for providing our children, your next generation of adult theatre-goers, with shows of this excellent calibre. 

The Bear continues at the Playhouse until 22 February.

All photographs provided by Leeds Playhouse.

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