Shaftesbury Avenue might not be traditional bear-hunting territory, but young adventure-seekers would be well advised to beat a path this summer holidays to the Lyric Theatre where Michael Rosen’s much-loved classic We’re Going on a Bear Hunt has been imaginatively translated to the stage by Sally Cookson (until 8 September).
The story follows an intrepid family who surmount various obstacles — long grass, oozy mud, a deep, cold river, a swirling snowstorm and a big dark forest — in their quest to find a bear. When they finally track him down in a gloomy cave, they take one look at his shiny wet nose and goggly eyes and scarper, hotfooting it back the way they came to take refuge at home under a large pink eiderdown.
All this is brought vividly to life by a sextet of performers that includes an impressively lifelike puppet-baby and an unusually benign-looking brown bear. Rosen’s rhythmic, repetitive text, which so captivates young listeners, is at the core of the production but equally engaging is a mix of catchy tunes, comic dance routines and audience participation. Best of all, though, was being squirted with monster water pistols (cue: squeals of delight) and blanketed in fake snow.
The ending has been given the Hollywood treatment so that the bear no longer trudges back alone, crestfallen, to his dank cave but instead joins the rest of the cast for a jig and a jolly singsong. I thought that was a bit of a shame but I don’t think most of the audience even noticed.