One of the more adorable shows we've seen this year is the warm-hearted, tear-inducing tale of a class bear, much loved and lost, sought and found. Each of Julia Donaldson's illsutrators bring a different flavour to her books and the combination of Julia Donaldson's storytelling and Rebecca Cobb's illustrations seem to produce tales uniquely brimming with emotion. Their first joint endeavour was the stunning Paper Dolls (probably my favourite of Donaldson's books). A loving mother helps her little girl make a chain of paper dolls, which become the child's most beloved play things. They accompany her on adventures, they face perils and experience wonders with her and all the time laughing and singing "You can't get us. Oh no no no! We're holding hands and we won't let go. We're Ticky and Tacky and Jackie the Backie and Jim with two noses and Jo with the bow!". Then sadly one day a little boy snips and destroys them, believing they are gone forever; but of course they aren't - they fly singing into the girl's memory. They join her most treasured things and as she grows into a girl and a mother they remain in her memory and she too helps her own little girl make some paper dolls. This stunning book shows the real value of legacy, and how our acts of love and creativity with our children (and those of my own mother with me) will always live on.
The more recent The Everywhere Bear has a similar flavour and skipping rhyming text. "With her blue pointy shoes and her hair in a bun, Mrs McAllister teaches Class One...." Just like many reception children (and Culturebaby as no exception) their classroom has a much loved pet that the children covet and wait in earnest to take home for the weekend. Ours was Charles. I must confess I have mixed feelings about Charles. Every Friday, Culturebaby would emerge from the classroom crestfallen: it wasn't her week. She hadn't done that special thing to earn her time with the picky penguin. But then her moment arrived, the look on her face, the excitement.... and the consequent memories. Perhaps it was worth the wait after all, and the pressure to show Charles a good time after his litany of weekend jollies to a range of exotic locations. Culturebaby took Charles on a boatride, to Hampton Court, to the lido, he even did violin practice. Both girls still look back on it as a particularly happy weekend.
Donaldson's Charles is the Everywhere Bear and he enjoys a range of activities with his Bijoux class of 19. Matt is new, so it is decided that he will take the bear home for the weekend. However, on the way to school the bear is misplaced and he finds himself disppearing down a drain, washed out to sea, caught in a net, displayed in a fish shop, thrown in a skip, and finally reeking of seafood he is picked up by a seagull and fortuitously dropped back near his school to be saved by the local librarian.
The book is sweet, with adorable illustrations and Stickman-like it is an adventure with a happy ending. However, it is Peter Glenville's stage show that really brings this book alive, adding emotive episodes in spades and turning a cute book into a moving classic. In the show we meet Matt, not just a new boy but a nervous new boy with no friends yet. He is delighted to have the bear for the weekend and develops a close bond with him - spending quality time and growing very attached to him in the absence of real children to spend time with... it's hard being new. Matt is therefore completely devastated when, distracted by a cat in the rain, he misplaces the much-loved bear on his way to school. Wracked with worry he is unable to stop thinking about the lost toy. Meanwhile, nervous and alone, the bear is washed out to sea, destined for a series of challenging adventures as he journeys further and further from home - finally ending up in a tip alongside a Barbie with a broken heart. His care to an injured seagull finally leads to his happy return to the librarian that sees him home. The use of emotive music, humour, clever puppetry and additional scenes really add to the original tale, enhancing it and pitching it so beautifully as a tender tale of friendship and perserverance.
The children loved it and we were also privileged to attend a performance alongside Rebecca Cobb, who was clearly visibly moved to see the production for the first time. We asked her afterwards how it felt so see her work translated across to the theatre:
"It usually takes me about 6 months to illustrate a picture book and during this time I get very close to a story and feel very attached to the characters I am drawing. When I heard that The Everywhere Bear was going to be adapted for the theatre I was so excited but also nervous because I was worried about how I would feel when I watched the performance and I wasn’t sure if I would be happy with the way my drawings had been interpreted. But I really didn’t need to worry because as soon as I saw the puppets and the set I was overwhelmed with how brilliantly they had been created. I found it quite emotional to see all the work that had gone into transforming something that I had drawn on paper into 3D characters on a stage. The whole show was completely amazing and really true to the book and the rest of the audience clearly enjoyed it as much as my family and I did."
The Everywhere Bear is on at the fantastic children's theatre, The Polka Theatre in Wimbledon, until 26th August. You can book tickets here.
Following the Polka, the show will tour to:
Thu, 13th September 2018 to Sun, 11th November 2018 - Little Angle Theatre, London
Disclaimer: We were invited to a press performance with a view to a review. As always all opinions are very much our own. With thanks to Amy Bramman at Kate Morley PR for arranging tickets and for press photographs, the Polka theatre for hosting us and Rebecca Cobb for sharing her thoughts.