Bear & Butterfly

Reviewed by Flossie Waite & Luke Billingham
A Theatre Hullabaloo production

Reviewed at artsdepot
For ages 4+

Where do single middle-aged bears live? In bear-chelor pads of course! And this bear has no ordinary pad – this one is kitted out with gadgets and gizmos aplenty, from the model train bringing his breakfast to the automatic spinning sponge for scrubbing his beardy mug. Think Wallace and Gromit, but with a tree rather than a suburban terrace, and no Wensleydale in sight. He’s a grumpy old bear who lives by routine and guards his territory from any potential invaders or guests. An ingenious inventor, he doesn’t need any friends – he’s got machines and devices to do everything for him.

When a little caterpillar wriggles into his home, his response is predictable: impatient hostility. Gradually though, if begrudgingly, his resistance is worn down by the visitor who has all the energy, curiosity and impulse to eat things of a toddler. As their unlikely friendship grows, Bear (Micky Cochrane) goes from misanthrope to father-figure, telling Caterpillar (Simon Carroll-Jones) stories, showing him around, and teaching him the things he can and cannot put in his mouth. The passing of the seasons marks the passage of Caterpillar’s youth: his emergence from his cocoon is like the onset of puberty, as he’s shocked by the new body parts – wings – he’s gained (“Where did they come from? What do they do?”) Like a teenager he tests boundaries, and like a young adult he flies the nest.

No matter how much they bash heads, the two come to rely on each other and learn from one another, though some things can’t be taught. When Butterfly (née Caterpillar) learns to fly, it’s genuinely exhilarating – watching him whizzing around the auditorium, it’s no wonder that Bear wants to take-off too. But despite Butterfly’s best efforts and Bear’s most innovative inventions (including, brilliantly, wings made of pants), nothing works. Bear’s a better match when it comes to break-dancing – unintimidated by Caterpillar doing the worm (of course), he spins across the floor like he’s a cub again, though his back doesn’t thank him for it.

Sprightly Carroll-Jones is perfect as Caterpillar/Butterfly, flipping and zipping around the stage and the auditorium, while Cochrane plods along as Bear. Their movement is central to conveying their contrasting but complementary temperaments, and it is delicately accompanied by Owl (Dominie Hooper) performing Simon McCorry’s compositions on the cello. Though slightly over-long, Bear and Caterpillar also packs a heavy emotional punch: when Bear is left bereft of his buddy due to cocoonment, and sings himself a melancholy ‘Happy Birthday’, all the children in the audience quietly join in, while the show’s moving denouement means there are a few wet cheeks by the end. A well-crafted combination of high-quality elements, it is designer Bek Palmer’s set which crowns the piece: intricate and technical yet warm and homely, its wizardry is captivating.

Children’s Theatre Reviews exists to help plug the gap in criticism and writing about theatre for young audiences. It is run entirely voluntarily, and needs support to continue covering and supporting the sector. For more information and to help give children’s theatre the voice it deserves, please visit our Patreon page.

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