It’s the first outing of a major new international production division, Disney Live!, that has spun off from the lucrative 25-years-and-counting franchise of Feld Entertainment’s Disney on Ice. Though there’s a faint whiff of the bland leading the brand, this isn’t a show intended, after all, to appeal to a sophisticated or subtle theatrical palette.
Indeed, its target audience is the pre-school and under-6s, and as an important first introduction to live theatre for this constituency, it doesn’t short-change them. Here, in all-important, living 3-D, some of their favourite characters come to life; and just as importantly, the audience are made to be part of an interactive experience with them.
BT McNicholl’s charmingly staged production – on a handsomely evocative set of the Hundred Acre Wood by Anna Louizos – regularly pauses to bring the house lights up and engage the audience directly with the onstage activities of the preparations that are being made to offer Pooh a surprise birthday party.
At one point, the audience are invited to do some light exercises with Pooh; later, to bounce with Tigger; and then to offer some help to make Pooh’s birthday cake and induce a snowfall.
While the fabric creatures are variously charged with duties such as organising the party or keeping Pooh distracted, there are some human interactions, too, presided over by Tracie Franklin’s perpetually smiley Narrator and including three acrobatic Hunny-Helper clowns. They help to keep the tone fluid and spontaneous in an entertainment that’s light and bright.
There’s a whole raft of live shows like this that exist somewhere beyond the reach of most theatre critics – like Noddy Live! and The Tweenies – but are instead about reaching a younger audience with evocations of their favourite characters. Since I found myself watching the kids’ reactions almost as much as I did the show itself, I can report that both they and I were utterly enthralled.
- Mark Shenton (reviewed at the Edinburgh Playhouse)