We’re Going on a Bear Hunt

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Reviewed by Kate Goerner

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Micheal Rosen’s 1989 picture book We’re Going on a Bear Hunt is rightly considered a children’s classic – it’s been a bedroom staple in our house since my son was a baby.

It has all the necessary ingredients – beautiful illustrations by Helen Oxenbury, fun repetitive rhyming language to read-along to, and not forgetting a dash of mild peril!

So how would it translate to the stage? Thankfully, brilliantly (phew!). This is up there with the best kids book-to-stage adaptations we’ve seen (an opinion confirmed by my 4-year-old, who said it was “as good as What The Ladybird Heard” – which is the highest of praise, believe me!)

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The staging is ingenious. Set against a backdrop of am evocative watercolour paint splodge, the much-loved elements of the book (Mud! Grass! Snow storm!) are brought to life by the cast using stuff you’d find at home – washing up bowls, bed sheets, paint and paper. Using familiar elements of messy play that the little ones in the audience will recognise, and indeed be able to recreate at home was very clever, and incredibly effective.

The brilliant cast of four (well technically 5 if we include the titular bear!) show fantastic energy throughout, individually and as an ensemble.

Tim Hibberd’s sardonic dad has just the right amount of wry humour to get the adults in the audience on board, but with boundless energy and warmth to get the kids on side too.

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Hannah Donelon and Artie Godden as the young girl and boy display great comic timing and physical comedy and Benjamin Hills as the family dog is great fun! He only says the occasion,y ‘woof’ but plays a multitude of instruments, bringing Benji Bower’s score to life.

My little co-reviewer’s favourite bit? Obviously the obligatory waterpistols that brought the splashy-sploshy river to life and to the audience! But he laughed out loud throughout, clutched my arm whenever he heard the bear ‘roar’ and said it was a “nice” surprise when the eventually-found bear didn’t turn out to be scary AT ALL.

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We’re Going on a Bear Hunt is at The Lowry, Salford Quays, until August 31st and is the perfect summer holiday treat for your little bear cub. (And if you want to prolong the fun there’s an accompanying bear hunt themed trail across the Lowry and the neighbouring outlet mall – collect a fun sheet from the customer service desk in the mall).

In a word, roarsome!

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt is on at The Lowry until Saturday 31st August, tickets available here.

Blackpool Tower Circus

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Writer Kate Goerner

Blackpool Tower Circus has been running for an incredible 125 years, dating back to 1894 – the world’s oldest circus based in a permanent arena.

It’s a rich history that the Circus is rightly proud of, as evidenced by the old posters and memorabilia on display to audience members as they they make their way from the entrance of the Tower to their seats ringside.

It’s impressive how the feel of a traditional big top is replicated in a permanent structure (designed by legendary theatre designer Frank Matchem no less) you do feel like you’re in a ‘proper’ circus setting!

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The circus has been led for the past 25 years by ‘Mr Boo’ and ‘Mooky’, who act as clowns and ringmasters combined.

The new Bollywood-themed show, Circus Carnival, has recently launched, just in time for the Easter.

The two-hour running time (including an interval) is filled with comedy, daring trapeze and gravity-defying stunts and circus skills, all accompanied by the in-house live band.

We loved the clever quick change act, the very definition of “how did they do that” plus the traditional circus balancing skills like juggling hula hoops.

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I was actually unaware that every Blackpool Tower Circus performance concludes with a water performance. The Arena’s unique design features a hydraulic floor which sinks and fills with 42,000 gallons of water in less than a minute. I wouldn’t want to give away any of the surprises of the finale – but it’s a wonderful way to end the show, with design, lighting, music and performance uniting to help audience members leave with a smile on their faces.

More information on the Blackpool Tower Circus can be found here.

 

In The Night Garden Live

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Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

In The Night Garden Live has been enchanting children since its very first tour in 2010; there’s nothing quite like seeing the faces of little ones light up when they realise their favourite characters are right there in front of them. For 2019 the show is even bigger and better as it moves out of the purpose built showdomes and into theatres across the country in an all-new & completely charming adventure; Igglepiggle’s Busy Day!

The much-loved characters Igglepiggle, Upsy Daisy, Makka Pakka, The Tombliboo’s and The Pontipines all feature in this wonderful celebration of the original CBeebies show brought to vivid life by an outstanding team of actor/puppeteers.

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The story written by Helen Eastman is told beautifully through song, dance and gentle music as Igglepiggle goes about his busy day bumping into his friends along the way. With the helpful addition of narration from Derek Jacobi, (the voice of the TV show); the story flows at a gentle pace ensuring even the youngest of audience members can follow the action in this joyful show.

The life-size versions of each character particularly captivate the little ones. There are both squeals of delight and frantic waves as one by one they each take to the stage. The whole experience feels magical, the perfect opportunity for little ones to have their first experience of the theatre. There are no loud bangs or unexpected surprises here just an enchanting & professionally executed show which will no doubt become a regular fixture in theatre schedules across the country.

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The set features familiar animations & bold visuals which further add to the immersive feel of this show as the much-loved characters whisk us along on their colourful ride. At around an hour long this is just the right about of time for the little ones who lap up every bit of the action.

My youngest guest who is 3 and a half announced upon entering the theatre & seeing the stage “I am so happy” I can confirm his smile was even wider by the end of the show. His Mum who has been to the shows at the showdome many times really enjoyed the experience of seeing the characters take to the stage in the theatre while her older son (age 5) really enjoyed the experience of going to the theatre with his baby brother and said of the move into the theatre “It’s not just for babies now but boys and girls too”

In The Night Garden Live is a huge hug of a show, joyous, magical family fun.

Further ticket and tour information can be found here.

 

Twirlywoos Live

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Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The producers of The Very Hungry Caterpillar as well as Sarah and The Duck Live clearly know a thing or two about creating entertaining children’s theatre. Their latest production: The Twirlywoos Live sees the much loved CBeebies TV show and its colourful, mischievous characters live on stage much to the delight of the youngsters in the audience.

For those not in the know the Twirlywoos are a family of bird like creatures who travel round in a big red boat spreading a little mischief wherever they wash up. They are made up of Great Big Hoo, Toodloo, Chickedy and Chick not forgetting colourful creature Peekaboo, whop pops up every now and again to cause a little mischief. There was also a flying visit from the Quacky Birds who took to the audience for a bit of noisy exploration as well as a surprise guest in the form of The Very Important Lady.

The innovative set changes from boat to laundrette to pizza parlour to party room with ease as the actors/puppeteers work with the Twirlywoos to teach the little ones in the audience about physical actions like ‘pulling’ and ‘rolling’ all done to simple yet memorable effect.

There’s singing and comedy as well as opportunities to interact including a rather exciting section where bubbles rain down on the audience causing a near frenzy of excitement.

The children I took loved the interactive elements enjoying shouting out their favourite pizza toppings and laughing hysterically at the washing basket which kept getting ‘pulled’ in different directions.

There were times at the Epstein Theatre when we struggled to hear the dialogue between the actors, while this show is very visual the dialogue is important to aid the storytelling and also retain the full attention of the audience; upping the volume a little would ensure there are no such problems in future performances.

With mischief, music and lots of giddy hijinks on the agenda Twirlywoos Live is a laugh-out-loud adventure, lapped up by little ones, great family fun.

Catch the show at the Epstein until Thursday 21st February tickets can be found here.

Annie

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Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Nikolai Foster’s revival of family favourite musical Annie has gone from strength to strength since it first debuted at the West Yorkshire Playhouse back in 2011. With a sell-out UK tour in 2015/16 followed by an extended run in the West End plus a recent sell-out season in Toronto all safely tucked under its belt; Annie is back on the road for 2019 opening a new UK tour here in Manchester.

Set in New York during the Great Depression it is indeed a hard-knock life for 11 year old orphan Annie who finds herself living in miserable, gin-swilling Miss Hannigan’s all-girl orphanage. Consumed with a fierce determination to find her real parents Annie manages to escape the boozy clutches of Miss Hannigan when she is picked to spend Christmas at the residence of famous billionaire, Oliver Warbucks. However Miss Hannigan and her good-for-nothing brother Rooster aren’t quite done with orphan Annie and set about trying their best to get in the way of her happy ending.

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Based on Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie comic strips the original musical opened on Broadway in 1977, it is however the 1982 film starring Albert Finney, Bernadette Peters and Eileen Quinn that remains most firmly etched in many people’s minds. It was without doubt one of the most worn out VHS tapes in my house, my sisters and I knowing every line, my eldest sister can still be called upon to belt out a deafening rendition of ‘Rover, why not think it over?’ should the need arise. With clearly many other Annie fans at the Opera House tonight it’s a welcome relief to see that director Nikolai Foster’s production respects the audiences love for this piece and has kept the changes to a minimum. It is still packed full of unforgettable classics including Hard Knock Life, Tomorrow, Easy Street and Little Girls while Miss Hannigan remains gin-guzzlingly awful but has a new technicoloured vibrancy about it.

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Its colourful escapism is reflected in Colin Richmond’s intricate set and costume design, jigsaw pieces scattered across the set reflecting Annie’s journey as piece by piece her life and identity come together all beautifully lit by Ben Cracknell. Yes at times it is schmaltzy but heck if Annie can make the President of the United States sit up and listen just imagine what she could do if unleashed into Brexit negotiations!

A large part of what makes Annie so endearing is of course the kids in the show and they really do make this production. Taziva-Faye Katsande is a charming and confident Annie supported perfectly by Team Chrysler for this evenings press night, each girl is outstanding bursting with life and vibrant energy with little Orla McDonagh threatening to steal the show as Molly on what is her professional debut.

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Anita Dobson makes for a cranky and world weary Miss Hannigan while Alex Bourne as Daddy Warbucks transforms before our eyes from hardnosed business man to smitten adoptive father. The ensemble deliver Nick Winston’s inventive choreography with sass and style adding exuberant energy to the much-loved musical numbers.

Annie is feel-good family fun, a real celebration of courage and innocent optimism as well as a wonderful reminder to us all that when the hard knocks come we need to find our inner strength and fight back remembering what seems impossible today will look different tomorrow. Joyful family entertainment with a great story at it’s heart.

On at The Opera House until Saturday 16th February tickets available here.

 

 

 

Interview | Zoe Bourn | Twirlywoos Live

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Over the last 10 years there’s been a huge increase in the number of children’s TV shows making the leap from screen to stages across the country allowing little ones the opportunity to see their favourite characters in the flesh and offering a first theatrical experience in the process.

Translating the larger than life fantastical world of Children’s TV into the physical world of theatre whilst still ensuring the magic remains the same is no easy feat, one which for Zoe Bourn has become a full-time job. Her passion for creating engaging, memorable and unique live experiences for even the youngest of theatre goers has led to her bringing some firm favourites to theatrical life including the world famous Thomas and Friends and Fireman Sam.

Zoe now turns her attention to Twirlywoos whom have been a firm favourite on CBeebies since they first appearance back in 2015. The stage production will feature inventive handcrafted puppets of the mischievous bird-like creatures and will feature everyone’s favourite characters from the much-loved TV show.

We caught up with Zoe ahead of the show’s arrival at The Lowry on Friday 15th February to hear a little more about bringing this show to life.

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Twirlywoos has enjoyed phenomenal success on TV. What do you think makes it so popular?

“I think its success is largely due to the playful nature of the characters. The humour appeals to everyone and really helps to make it universally accessible.”

What can audiences expect from Twirlywoos Live?

“We have purposely stayed close to the TV format so our little audience members will feel safe and familiar with what they’re seeing. But they can expect a very different experience as we invite them into the action and bring the Twirlywoos magic to life all around them.”

Do you have a favourite Twirlywoos character and why?

“I actually love Peekaboo! It’s such an easy character for children of this age group to relate to and offers a really lovely interlude from the chaos the Twirlywoos create. And I love the fact that no one else ever sees or interacts with it and yet you never feel sorry for it – that’s a powerful character!”

What are the challenges of transporting Twirlywoos into the 3D world of theatre?

“There have been many! Due to the nature of the show we have needed to have lots of research and development sessions in order to figure out how best to translate it. One of the main challenges is how to present the real world scenes as the characters are very small and we have to ensure they are seen from every seat in the auditoriums. The team who look after the TV show have worked really closely with our production team to give us the flexibility we needed on the scale of our puppets without them appearing any differently.”

You have adapted other much-loved children’s titles for the stage. How do you go about writing new stories for these well-known characters?

“It’s important to immerse yourself in the TV episodes and to respect the rules and structure that their writers have invented wherever possible. Shows of this calibre have a whole science behind them and I think if you can balance the inclusion of this with the golden rules of live theatre then you have a winning formula. Children are also sticklers for detail. They will be the first ones to tell you if you’ve got it wrong!”

Why do you think it’s important that children experience theatre at a young age?

“Giving young children the opportunity to experience live theatre opens them up to a new dimension of experience and can inspire their own creativity. The earlier we can do this and the more regularly the better – especially in the UK where our education system doesn’t always recognise the importance and value of the arts to our growth and wellbeing.”

You can catch Twirlywoos at the Lowry from Friday 15th until Monday 18th February, tickets available here.

 

Robin Hood & The Babes in the Wood

The decorations may have come down and the tree has been packed away but there’s one festive treat still on offer as Robin Hood & The Babes in the Wood plays at Warrington’s Parr Hall until Sunday 13th January.

This traditional production is packed full of the usual pantomime favourites, cream pies in the face, water guns as well as being grabbed by the ghosties, or was it the ghoulies? There’s also a sprinkling of topical modern references including the floss, a certain Baby Shark song and even an appearance from the one and only Donald Trump as this fun, family show offers laughs a-plenty for all ages.

The Tony Peers Production written by Phil Beck (who also stars as Nurse Nellie) keeps things very panto traditional with Louise Willoughby playing Robin Hood to Charlotte Buxton’s Maid Marion. Willoughby makes for a strong and sassy lead with both ladies giving note perfect performances despite some hilariously difficult conditions brought about by comedy duo Nurse Nellie and Silly Billy (Phil Beck and Mike Carnell) whose comedy capers are greeted with shrieks of laughter from the audience.

As a double act both Beck and Carnell are fabulous fun, quick witted and enormously entertaining with impeccable comedy timing the duo ensure the action moves at a perfect pace as they gently guide us through the story throwing in plenty of laughs along the way. Ian Moore’s lecherous Sheriff of Nottingham revels in the boos while the Sheriff’s reluctant henchman Snarly played by Edward Leigh shows there’s more to him than meets the eye.

Robin Hood is a great fun production which offers the perfect introduction to festive theatre at a family friendly price. The small cast work brilliantly together, clearly having a lot of fun on stage they succeed in taking the audience along for this traditional and cheeky ride. While there aren’t the big show stopping numbers or dazzling choreography of bigger budget productions the laughs come thick and fast ensuring this panto covers all bases in terms of appeal, from toe-curling close to the bone jokes for the adults to slap-stick silliness for the kids.

My fellow mini-reviewer remarked on the way back to the car “My cheeks hurt from laughing so much” a true testament to the enduring appeal of panto; cheeky, charming and chock-full of fun.

Catch Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood at Warrington’s Parr Hall until Sunday 13th January. Tickets available here.