Theatre for small children is a tricky fish. It needs to be simple, bright, engaging and not contain anything too scary, as small children are prone to taking fright at unexpected things (this writer once had to leave a theatre before the show started because the cardboard box on stage was terrifying). If it contains a story too, for mind-addled parents as much as the kids, that’s a definite bonus. The Polar Bears give us both.
The show is billed as being suitable for two- to five-year-olds, but this 42-year-old found it pretty captivating too. The polar bears wake up to face another day. Big Bear encourages Little Bear to practice her (very gentle) roaring (to mild consternation from some of the younger audience). They make breakfast and then hear the doorbell. A parcel is delivered! Ten minutes in, the tiny audience are completely hooked.
One of the loveliest things about childrens’ shows is the kids who are too young to have been talked out of speaking audibly during the performance. The parcel arrived in the bears’ house to an audible “Open it!” and a “What’s inside?” from curious children. The bears do a beautiful job of acknowledging their audience without letting the show get derailed – no mean feat with a theatre full of excitable toddlers.
The parcel is unpacked, the surprise is revealed but Little Bear manages to lose it. So the pair embark on an epic journey to retrieve the gift. Lee Lyford’s production is full of inventive imagination. A clever, colourful, compact set unpacks to make musical instruments, toast, a trampoline and cable cars. The soundtrack is brilliantly designed to give the show intrigue, momentum and a charming little signature tune that punctuates the bears’ hunt for their lost prize.
The performers are brilliant. Eilidh MacAskill as Big Bear is brave (until it comes to the trampoline), wise and careful. Little Bear (Fiona Manson) is impetuous, cheeky and endearing. Aside from the one child who somehow mistook them for monkeys, I was entirely persuaded that these ladies in furry dressing gowns and goggles were back-scratching, snuffling, slightly smelly arctic animals.
This is a delightful show. It held the attention of most of the kids for the full fifty minutes. And it reminded this cynical adult that a little imagination is a wonderful thing.