Review: We're Going On A Bear Hunt (Arts Depot)

Michael Rosen’s modern classic is adapted for the stage with new music by Benji Bower

Michael Rosen’s classic baby-book (published in 1989) was a firm favourite in our household when my children were young. So much so that a very battered copy, chewed to death and stained with various purees, is stored in my attic alongside other classics such as The Gruffalo, The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Where’s Spot? Ostensibly they are being stored for the grandchildren, but in reality I couldn’t bear to part with them as they were read over and over and OVER again and bring back such strong and fond memories. Therefore when I was asked to review this production the bar was set pretty high for me. "Please don’t ruin it…" I quietly murmured to myself as I took my seat.

Given that my kids are now more likely to be found at a Chase & Status gig I borrowed a friend’s almost four-year-old girl to accompany me. It was her first ever experience of live theatre so the pressure was doubly on.

I am happy to report that neither of us was remotely disappointed. The five main characters, Dad, Boy, Girl and Dog (Baby is a puppet) magically brought the book to life and faithfully recreated the narrative with genuine energy and enthusiasm that didn’t wane once over the entire hour. I amazed myself with how much of the gorgeous, rhythmic text I remembered and happily joined in with the little ones as the family navigated long tall grass, a river and lots of mud on their journey – swishy swashy, splash splosh, squelch squelch…

The journey to the bear cave is ingeniously and imaginatively re-created and our particular favourite was the river crossing using buckets of water that morphed into LOTS of splashing (be warned: water pistols were deployed), much to the shrieking delight of the audience.

Special mention must be made of the fabulous, quirky music composed by Benji Bower; genuinely melodic, atmospheric and catchy so that during my drive home I actually found myself singing "We’re go-ing on a bear hunt, we’re go-ing to catch a big one, I'm not scared…" Thankfully I was alone.

For me, the magic formula of any family show is to equally appeal to the adults as well as the kids. Otherwise, trust me, instead of engaging with their offspring and sharing the magical experience of live theatre, the grown-ups are sat there counting down the minutes until the curtain falls and they can make a speedy exit. Thankfully this show does tick that box with several humorous asides and one-liners that had me genuinely laughing out loud.

In fact this show ticked a lot of boxes. It was creative, silly and great fun. Every single one of the actors gave it 100%, engaging with the kids in true panto-style, encouraging them to join in the hunt, shout out clues and help find the Bear. My companion loved it and sat entranced for the full hour. Her verdict: "Good", which in three-year-old parlance is praise indeed. Recommended.

We're Going on a Bear Hunt Hunt runs at the Arts Depot until 2 January.