Review of The Bear, Bristol Old Vic, Saturday 18 February 2107
A polar bear squeezes through a child’s window and…is very naughty.
Tales of polar bears could go cuddly or monstrous. Recently, for instance, I’ve been watching the TV show Fortitude set on an Arctic island. There, everyone packs a rifle in case they encounter one of the huge white beasts and are in danger of becoming its snack.
But this is a half term theatre show based on a Raymond Briggs story and performed at the Bristol Old Vic, so we can assume this is a Nice Bear – the kind teddies are based on, the vulnerable giant whose habitat is rapidly shrinking.
I’m here with my almost four year old who is as concerned with the snacks in my bag with the action on stage. (This is the kind of distraction that kids’ theatre companies such as Pins and Needles Productions have to put up with and handle with glee.) Tilly – who loves writing and singing pop songs – finds she has a large and noisy house guest. He becomes her new pal, but it’s not easy sharing with someone who splashes bath water everywhere, messes up mummy and daddy’s bedroom, mistakes the floor for a toilet and the toilet for a bowl of drinking water, and breaks things.
For a while I thought it might be just another children’s show with a simple story where the bear is a child stand-in, but it, as it turns out, was a much richer metaphor than that. As with other Briggs’ stories like The Snowman, it finds the magical space between dreams and reality.
Lily Donovan makes a charming Tilly; by turns excited child who can’t get to sleep without Teddy, to a full tantrum on the floor because Bear has left the house in a state, but most of the time in wonderment of her new best friend.
And although Bear in the bath and Bear dressed up and what to do with Bear’s big poos are funny enough, it is Tilly riding Bear across the stage, Bear swimming and Bear reunited with Baby Bear at the North Pole which takes the story from kids’ TV territory and transforms it into a beautiful, tearjerking piece of theatre for any age.