If Raymond Briggs is renowned for penning classic Christmas stories, Pins and Needles is fast gaining a reputation for their stellar adaptations of his work. Having already created a superb stage version of Father Christmas (now an annual tradition at Lyric Hammersmith), the company have turned to his later work The Bear.
Briggs deals a bittersweet blow that only the British would accept as a festive treat. The Bear is no different – not dissimilar from The Snowman (or even his lesser-known work The Man), it sees an unexplained, otherworldly character briefly enter into the everyday life of a child. The child in this story is Tilly – an enthusiastic, incredibly winning popstar-wannabe played with great energy by Naomi Stafford. Though she loves her visitor, the huge polar bear proves to be quite a handful, drinking from the toilet and making an almighty mess.
The bear is a glorious, huge puppet created by Samuel Wyers, and so much is cleverly communicated through the way he is puppeteered. Like other enigmatic Briggs characters, the bear lives on the cusp of imagination and reality – it’s left up to the audience as to whether he truly visited or not. Mum and Dad (Suzanne Nixon and Dan Gingell) may take Tilly’s stories about the bear with a pinch of salt, but they gamely (and patiently!) play along. That they puppeteer the bear for most of the production suggests that whether or not they believe him to be real, their imaginative investment in Tilly’s adventure helps to make it exist for her. The bear is often represented as an incomplete body – a head peeking over a door, or the torso and front legs splashing in the bath. It’s not until the bear feels truly at home that he is made complete, and his whole body puppeteered.
The Bear is both silly and stunning – one minute Tilly is clearing a shovelful of bear poo, the next she is riding across the night sky on the bear’s back. Give yourself an early Christmas present and book tickets now.
Image by Polka Theatre.
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