The Bear at Waterside.
The Bear at Waterside.
The Siege of Christmas. Photo credit Joel Chester Fildes.
The Siege of Christmas. Photo credit Joel Chester Fildes.
Red Riding Hood and the Wolf. Photo credit Ellie Kurtz.
Red Riding Hood and the Wolf. Photo credit Ellie Kurtz.

A Review of The Bear at Waterside, Sale, and Round-up of Other Manchester Christmas Shows for Families

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Our commissioning editor Rhonda Carrier gets into the Christmas spirit watching a performance of the Raymond Briggs classic complete with spellbinding 4D effects.

I’m a sucker for puppetry, and the Waterside in Sale in south Manchester – comprising a theatre, art galleries, studios and workspaces that host, among other things, an annual Puppet Masters Conference – does it very well. Its annual Christmas family often features some of the finest examples of the art form.

This year they’re hosting The Bear, an adaptation of the Raymond Briggs classic by children’s/YA theatre company Pins and Needles. And while it lacks the fuller story that kids and adults who have watched the DVD will know (starting the zoo visit), it makes up for this with wonderful physical effects borrowed from the world of 4D cinema.

While the bear is taking a bath, for instance, bubbles float down on the audience. More delightfully still, when he returns to his home in the Arctic, snowflakes flutter down onto the auditorium from the ceiling. Even the exuberant scene changes, which are carried out by the three actors themselves, come across as part of the fun.

The story itself (which I won’t give away) is simple but told with wit and energy. Apart from the fabulous, huge bear puppet and the smaller ones (a cat and a goldfish), I particularly liked the repartee between the Mum and Dad, while the nine-year-olds kids I was with loved the funky music and the whirling disco ball.

Aimed at ages 3–11, The Bear is short and pacey enough to keep most younger kids in their seats – many of the tots at our showing got into the swing of things by roaring at the huge bear puppet. Some kids shed a few tears when the bear left his new friend Tilly to resume his real life – but then what’s the point of theatre, if it doesn’t move you?

As always, the Waterside’s Christmas offering was perfect for getting us into the festive mood. The kids’ Slumber Packs of milk and cookies (available for 6pm performances, when kids are welcome to come in their PJs!) also went down a treat with my junior reviewers, making it an all-round perfect evening out.

The Bear runs at the Waterside, Sale, Greater Manchester until 6 Jan 2018. Tickets £12.50-16.50 depending on row, plus booking fee.

Other Family Theatre in Manchester Over Christmas 2017

Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, HOME

This production by the Little Angel puppet theatre is best with slightly older kids (roughly 6+), as it’s a darkly humourous retelling of the classic tale, exploring the notions of friendship, acceptance and overcoming prejudice. Kids can make their own origami wolf from the company’s website. Note also that the Manchester ice rink is in front of HOME this year, and you can get 20% off tickets using the code HOME20.

Red Riding Hood and the Wolf runs from the 7th–29th December 2017.

Siege of Christmas, Contact Theatre

This offering from the Contact Young Company and Slung Low stands out from the crowd as its an immersive promenade piece, meaning that the audience follows the performance around the building – transformed into a winter wonderland – and even gets to join in at points in a quest to ‘save the spirit of Christmas’ from a festive thief.

Seige of Christmas runs 13th–20th December 2017.

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