Ah, the class bear experience. We’ve all been there. Last October, we babysat Pluto the Class Dog for the entire half term, taking him to the Wetlands and the V&A. Here’s Eva with him on the platform at Hackney Downs, reunited after she’d dropped him at a bus stop near Hackney Downs and I’d had to retrace our steps to go find the poor little chap:
Losing the class bear is the all-too-real premise of “The Everywhere Bear” but before we tried to find the bear, we needed to first find the Little Angel Theatre . It’s not overly obvious especially if you’ve chosen to walk along Liverpool Road instead of Upper Street for dull and complicated reasons of my own. Still, it meant we go to walk down this road of brightly coloured doors, which only grate if you’re of the rainbow-OCD persuasion:
Back on Upper Street, look out for the massive church on the east side of the street and take a path that cuts through the churchyard to the north of it:
And this, slightly unhelpfully, is the view back down the path once you’ve found the theatre:
Because the theatre is off to the right of this photo, just at the end of the path. Quite literally off the beaten track but definitely worth because it’s a small but perfectly formed place. At a guess I’d say the auditorium seats about 100 and there’s a little cafe area as soon as you walk in through the doors as well. That was home to Eva’s favourite feature – an animatronic version of the Princess and the Frog. Push a button and the door opens to reveal one of three different frogs or the prince! I can’t quite convey how exciting she found it:
So onto the show. It’s a joint production with two other theatres – the Polka in Wimbledon and the Royal & Derngate in Northampton – but I’m glad we saw it in the intimacy of the Little Angel because we were so close to the stage that it felt very immersive. Eva got *too* emotionally involved if anything but more on that later. I like the way they reserve the aisle seats for kids as well in order to maximise sightlines for little ones. It’s a very thoughtful touch.
The show’s based on a Julia Donaldson book and the Donaldson connoisseur might notice similarities between this work and some of her others – notably “Stick Man” and “Tiddler” – but the theme of being lost and finding your way home is a pretty universal one. I forgot how much “Stick Man” makes Eva cry though. Oops. I mean, we were both emotional today for reasons I won’t go in to and the story tugs at the heartstrings a bit. It opens in Class One, with the teacher reeling off a list of names as kids’ faces appear in the round screen at the top of the stage. Even this bit made me a little weepy as they introduced the puppet Matt, who was new in class and worried about not having any friends. The teacher was played by Amy Tweed and she and Daniel Harlock between them played every part in the show, as well as operating the puppets.
Matt gets to take the Everywhere Bear home and sings an affecting song about being new while planning his fun weekend with his new friend. It’s at this stage that the cleverly-designed set starts to take effect – it converts from school to Matt’s room and an ice rink becomes a picnic at the flip of a board. You can guess what happens when Matt is taking the bear back to school on Monday – it was similar to our Hackney Downs experience. From then on, the story splits with us seeing both the bear’s adventures at sea and in a fish shop as well as Matt’s sadness at home and his worry about losing the bear.
It sounds pretty simplistic but there’s a lot that’s gone into the show. There’s a pair of Welsh (?) fishermen who deliver the bear to Mrs Bishop’s Fish Shop, where she sings a song packed with fish puns at an ever-increasing tempo. Eva had her hands firmly over her ears at that point – not because she didn’t like Daniel’s singing but because she feared the bear was in grave danger and her response to anything “too scary” is to put her hands on her ears. She couldn’t tear her eyes off the stage though…
I did try explaining to her beforehand that this was a show for 3-8 year olds and any peril would be surely be mild enough for a 6-year-old to handle but the message didn’t seem to have sunk in. She feared for that bear.
Of course, there was a happy ending. When the bear was discovered by a librarian, she rescued him by climbing up a lamp post while entirely talking in bear-related rhyming couplets. It would have enraged a friend of mine but Eva found it hilarious (if I tell you that the friend in question is called Claire, you might start to understand where she’s coming from). All seemed well as Class One arrived at the library but it was at that point that Eva burst into uncontrollable tears – she couldn’t tell me afterwards whether they were happy tears at the bear being safe or sad tears because Matt didn’t realise the bear was safe yet….they were just tears. I think the emotions of the piece and of the week overwhelmed her a bit and I can totally see why. A younger child may well have handled it much better but Eva is at that stage where she *feels* everything so very much and quite frankly, she’s her mother’s daughter.
So big emotions aside, we both really enjoyed it. It’s a short show – about 50 minutes I think – and has a bouncy mix of songs and dialogue to keep things moving quickly. There’s some lovely use of props – a book opens to reveal a glittering sky full of stars – and a real warmth to both the actors that makes them believable whether they’re playing kids – as they did on the stage before the start of the show – or adults. I’d recommend seeing it and Eva is very keen to return for “The Singing Mermaid” in January. It’s a lovely theatre and a well-overdue visit. Just pack some tissues if your little one is of the empathy-overload variety.
“The Everywhere Bear” is on now and runs until 11th November. For more information and tickets, please click here.
Disclaimer: I received free tickets in exchange for a review. All opinions remain honest and my own.