Review: Little Charley Bear and his Christmas Adventure

It’s always in the run-up to Christmas that West End theatres find themselves stocked with early-morning offerings for young children, and Little Charley Bear and his Christmas Adventure is no different. An adaptation from the CBeebies show, in which the bear is voiced by James Corden and entertains his animal friends with his imagination, this show is a sweet and fun performance for children and parents alike.

Led by a pair of young and enthusiastic presenters (the bright and excited David Marken and Emily Thomas), Charley whisks the audience on an adventure in which he attempts to create the perfect Christmas with the help of the young – and incredibly enthusiastic – audience. With a babes-in-arms policy at the New Ambassador’s Theatre, and bright flashing Charley glow sticks on sale, this performance was bright and cheerful, and the atmosphere which this excitement formed definitely made a difference to how the show was received. Charley leads the audience and his friends around the world in their imaginations, and along the way there are sing-alongs, dance-alongs and even a life-sized Charley Bear that really engages with the children in the audience.

Using a mixture of puppetry and costume, the figure of Charley Bear is performed enthusiastically and incredibly well. Marken and Thomas do their best to animate the miniature Charley realistically. That is of course, until the giant Charley takes over. His actions are fantastic, lively and engaging, and the children in the audience were incredibly happy to see their favourite CGI bear dance alongside them. If there is, however, something lacking here, it is that Charley’s puppet friends, among them a cow and a penguin, do not have the same appeal as puppet Charley, they are more awkward to manoeuvre and, from a technical point of view, don’t quite sit well. Of course, it must be remembered that this is a production aimed at an incredibly young age group, and many of them were excited enough to see their favourite characters realised, no matter how they acted onstage.

Brian Herring’s direction is lovely, simplistic in nature, and the pace is enough to ensure that nobody would lose interest in what’s going on onstage, and ensures that if somebody gets bored, the sweet, recognisable musical numbers will draw them back in. The set, once again, is incredibly simplistic, a toybox and various props pass across the stage at different times, though nothing is so complex as to draw the eye for more than a few moments at a time. It is here as well that there lay a flaw, for a children’s production is so often full of high-colour sets, that I was surprised that neither the lighting nor the set were bright and eye catching. In a room filled with flashing merchandise, it didn’t quite create an impact that would last a long time.

An enjoyable piece of theatre for parents and children, Little Charley Bear and his Christmas Adventure is a nice Christmas production, with enthusiastic players and a sweet and endearing heart.

Little Charley Bear… Runs until 24 December. To book tickets and for more information see the Ambassadors Theatre website.