What can be said about Little Bulb’s Christmas show for little people, except that it’s completely adorable and you should go and see it? It expertly treads the line between sweet and saccharine, providing many moments of pure, unadulterated theatrical joy – for both children and nominal grown-ups.
We are a band of brave explorers, leaving brave Bristol on our brave ship, to bravely go adventuring with the very brave Sir Peregrine Falcon, our brave guide. He’s so brave he has his very own song about how jolly brave he is. It’s whimsical and charming, and all just rather lovely. Sir Peregrine, played by Alex Scott, is bearded and booming, but never less than gentle with the excitable children in the front rows. He’s off to Antarctica, sustained only by fish-brain and sea slime sandwiches (cue much ewwww-ing from the delighted audience), in search of the fabled owlarbear – a fabulous, shy creature with the head and wings of an owl, and the body of a bear, which just wants to show off its dancing skills. As I said, adorable.
Sir Peregrine is aided and abetted on his journey by all manner of creatures, all played with immense energy and humour by Clare Beresford and Dominic Conway. We meet some rather mean-spirited prancing snowflakes, a pair of ice-skating penguins, some argumentative seals, two thieving seagulls (who perform a hilarious bird-ballet of little grace and much giggling), some rather wonderful glowing jellyfish and, of course, the owlarbear.
The story is simple (a quest with a happy ending), but what Little Bulb does so well is to immerse its audience, young and old, in the world of the story. All of the animal characters are captivating and convincing, and the length is nicely judged to keep even the smallest enthralled. In fact, several very tiny toddlers were so involved that there was more than one stage-invader, especially when an lovely under-sea scene engulfed the stage in bubbles. I may even have popped one myself.
These three are not afraid to be a bit silly in order to provide entertainment, but it’s so well-judged that it never slips over into humiliation. Likewise, all of the audience participation is handled well, even the tiny heckler: when Sir Peregrine boomed, “Did you like the owlarbear?” the entire audience shouted back “yeeeeeeees”, except one little girl who stood up, folded her arms and said, very firmly, “No I didn’t.” (She was won over in the end – he checked.)
It’s hard to see how anyone could not be won over by this show. It’s gentle, funny and absolutely alive with theatrical magic. Go, with or without a small child.
Antarctica is at Bristol Old Vic until 4 January. For more information and tickets visit Bristol Old Vic’s website.