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Review – The Bear at Leeds Playhouse

Much to their embarrassment, as we took our seats in the Courtyard Theatre of the Leeds Playhouse this week, I started quoting lines from James and the Giant Peach at my bemused kids. My mum took us to see it at the West Yorkshire Playhouse (as it was then) decades ago and I can still remember it vividly – the costumes, the jokes and much of the dialogue. We used to make the trip over to Leeds often to see the latest children’s shows and – later – the adult ones too. So it was with great excitement that I took my own three children over this week for their first trip to the Leeds Playhouse to see The Bear, a show based on the Raymond Briggs picture book.

First things first: the Playhouse itself. It’s all change since the multi-million pound renovation, and I did have to double-check that we were in the right place (in fairness, the big PLAYHOUSE sign on the roof was a bit of a giveaway). The money has been well spent, creating a light, welcoming and modern space that’s practical and timeless. There’s a lovely cafe serving delicious coffee (vital) and cake (ditto) and a bright and airy restaurant and bar too. Little touches like low sinks and hand-dryers, decent baby-changing, highchairs and free-to-borrow booster seats (not always the case, shockingly) make it clear that families are welcome. The programme, too, has families at its heart, and The Bear is an ideal show for little ones.

The Bear tells the tale of Tilly, a little girl who awakes one night to discover that a massive polar bear has clambered in through her window. Delighted rather than alarmed, she welcomes the bear into her life and the home that she shares with her mum and dad (a deceptively simple set that transforms deftly from one room to another). The bear itself is a huge, beautiful and enchanting puppet, operated by Mum and Dad. White, furry and with an ethereal quality, it’s impossible not to fall in love with. And fall in love with it Tilly does: she dresses it up, plays with it, feeds it, clears up its wees and poos and despairs over its inability to tidy up after itself. Welcome to parenthood, Tilly. 

The Bear is a magical show, and one that I think my children will remember for a long time (maybe they’ll even quote lines from it to their own offspring). It’s a gloriously enchanting production: witty, warm-hearted and uplifting. It’s ideal for the recommended three to eight age range: our five and seven-year-olds were completely captivated. They giggled, ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ their way through it, and were delighted by the ending (as was I). For a February half term treat, The Bear will be hard to beat.  

The Bear runs at Leeds Playhouse until Saturday 22nd February 2020 – Visit the Leeds playhouse website for more details and to book tickets

Thank you to Leeds Playhouse for inviting us to the press performance. As always, our review is independent and we will only even something that we have genuinely enjoyed

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