If you go down to the park today, you’re sure of a big surprise! Follow the music and you’ll discover that one green corner of Rowntree Park has been transformed into a relaxed performance space and there’s something exciting happening. We dug out our picnic blanket, debated which bear to bring (too big? Too small? Too precious?), packed some sandwiches and went along to see what families can expect from Engine House Theatre’s new post-lockdown venture, Park Bench Theatre, and their Teddy Bears’ Picnic children’s show.
Anyone familiar with Rowntree Park will know that it’s perfect in every way except one: the geese. Our feathered friends aren’t known for clearing up after themselves so we always choose our footwear accordingly. Good news then that the shows take place in the Friends Garden, a space that – oddly, given that they’re winged creatures – the geese haven’t figured out how to get into. To ensure social distancing, circles have been marked on the grass so that each group can spread out and in their own area without encroaching on anyone else. There was plenty of room in our circle for the four of us and our many bits and pieces, and we had a great view of the bench that takes the place of a stage (we arrived about 20 minutes before the show started and had plenty of choice of where to sit). The sun was shining and the ground was dry, so we didn’t need our blanket, but we’d recommend taking one just in case of a soggy ground emergency (and for extra vintage picnic vibes).
This isn’t any ordinary picnic though: it’s a one-woman show with heart and soul, teddies and teacups, food and funny accents that kids will love. We’ve seen Cassie Vallance in a few productions and she’s always exceptional, so it was a good sign to see her name on the press release as performer and co-creator. Once again she shines as she plays Jo, a girl who lost her favourite teddy, Kenny, a while back and along with it her enthusiasm for the annual teddy bears’ picnic in the park that she used to love. The half-hour show flew by as she played out how Kenny fell foul of her dad’s Flymo, the teddy bears’ hospital’s attempts to revive him and his ultimate trip ‘around the world’ (with postcards from foreign climes (oh, and Selby) to prove it).
It’s a lovely script about memories and love (and a little bit of lockdown) that engages its young audience and is a treat for grown-ups too. It felt so good to be back watching live theatre again with our kids, and Teddy Bears’ Picnic is the perfect uplifting story for little ones with a positive message for us all. Perhaps it was the sun shining too brightly, but something definitely made my eyes water…
Good to know – Tickets need to be pre-booked in advance and are £5 each. You will be listening to the performance through headphones to make sure that you can hear everything. You can take your own Plug-in headphones or you can buy them for a small fee (you may want to take your own for the kids as they are adult-style ear buds).
Dates and times – Wednesday 19 Saturday – Saturday 22 August, Thursday 27 – Saturday 29 August, Monday 31 August – Saturday 5 September (11:30am and 1:30pm)