by Sarah Cope

I think I probably speak for a lot of parents when I say that my heart always sinks when my daughter proffers Michael Rosen’s well-known We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. Sacrilege though it is to admit, I find the book dull, repetitive (I know, that’s the point), and the illustrations wishy-washy at best.

It’s a slip of a story, and I was genuinely intrigued as to how it could be adapted into anything near long enough for a decent stage production.

So it was in both the spirit of curiosity and altruism, since my daughter is such a fan, that I took my co-reviewer along to the always enchanting and intimate space that is the Little Angel in Islington.

I detest it when a reviewed writes a review along the lines of ‘I thought I would hate this, but actually I loved it’. However, thanks to Peter Glanville and Barb Jungr’s excellent adaptation, I’m going to have to do just that.

This was a totally captivating 40 minutes. The puppets, animated by four actors attired in blacks, greys and blues, were excellent, endearing portrayals of the characters, faithful 3D craftings of Helen Oxenbury’s original illustrations. The small boy, Bertie, in his pink babygrow, was almost unbearably cute.

The adaptation is set to music and the songs are both catchy and yet haunting; a tricky combination to muster. The actors all had excellent voices, and gamely took up instruments as diverse as the guitar and the flute. A special mention should go to Jess Mabel Jones, whose voice was staggeringly sweet, powerful and soaring.

As veterans of the book will know, the story presents several staging difficulties, what with squelchy mud, whirling blizzards and dark forests. The adaptation keeps it simple and charming, with, for example, a blue gauzy fabric doubling for the river, and the trees being a simple cut-out, complete with puppet owl (who, although appearing only twice, and briefly both times, seemed to captivate the children).

My six-year-old daughter, a massive fan of death and accidents, said “I liked it when Lizzie fell over, because the Dad said ‘Oh! What a bad cut!’” However, being a stickler for realism, she didn’t like it when tiny Bertie went swimming on his own; this she deemed “scary”.

There’s to be another adaptation of We’re Going On A Bear Hunt at the Lyric Theatre this summer, which will no doubt be a much fancier, up-scale production. We’ll be reviewing it here in July, but it’ll be hard for it to beat this smaller, almost perfect production, which I feel tempted to see again.

Grab a random child and take them; you’re in for a memorable treat.

We’re Going On A Bear Hunt continues at the Little Angel Theatre, Islington, until 21 July.