Jessica Harris watches a Pins & Needles Productions show at the Midlands Arts Centre.
In the auditorium, amidst an audience of young school children, my anticipation rose as their excitement grew. And this enchanting adaptation of Raymond Brigg’s The Bear didn’t disappoint.
It’s a stormy night and Tilly is asleep, her teddy bear keeping her comfy and safe. A small silhouette appears at the window. It grows larger. Surely it’s a bear? Suddenly, an enormous snowy white bear, a polar bear no less, climbs in to Tilly’s room. But it’s friendly, with a definite smile on its face. The bear and Tilly become best friends.
As the story unfolds, the hubbub of childhood is beautifully portrayed. One moment, Tilly is a feisty young girl who speaks her mind and appears beyond her years. The next, a wobble and a tantrum, and she is a little child again. But most of all, the show reveals the wonderful imagination of children, with Tilly’s flights of fancy taking her from being a rock star to riding high on the back of the bear.
Puppetry is central to the production, the polar bear being the star. When it’s on stage, we forget about the puppeteers, and focus on it entirely. On first appearance it has a fully body but in later scenes, just its head and front paws are used, focussing our attention even more on its bear-like qualities. Sounds such as growling by the actors go one step further in bringing it to life. Other puppets which put in an appearance are a goldfish and a cat. Again, sound effects work well, and add a gentle humour to the show.
Although Oriana Charles as Tilly has by far the largest speaking part, all three actors are strong, with Moxwell Tyler and Rianna Ash making extensive use of mime and movement throughout. Clever use of props enriches the piece: a window becomes a cupboard, and a mirror frame becomes a window.
Childhood rituals are brought into play, from teeth cleaning to bed-time stories. Yet while Tilly is, like her audience, young and small, we see her step up to the responsibility of caring for the untrained and ill-disciplined bear.
Finally, with the love and care of her father, Tilly comes to terms with the fact that the bear is too big for a child’s bedroom and must return to the wild. The stage is turned into a scene of snowy wilderness, beautifully lit to capture all the colours of snow, and white flakes fall. As the bear is reunited with its cub, we see the importance of caring for one another one more time.
There’s a joy in seeing a well performed children’s show and the impact it has on small children. This was one of those moments. If you have a child aged 3+, do take them along. And don’t forget your teddy bear!
Tilly was played by Oriana Charles, Dad and Bear by Moxwell Tyler, Mum and Bear by Rianna Ash. The director was Kate Pasco, with original co-direction by Emma Earle and Hal Chambers.
The Bear is on at MAC until Friday 30th December. Further information: macbirmingham.co.uk.
Pics – Pins & Needles Productions.