Mr Gum and the Dancing Bear – the Musical! has the feel of a summer pantomime. With rude, silly and energetic characters alongside light hearted, simple songs, there’s not much to dislike. Of course, it’s aimed at a younger audience – kids aged 7-9 – but with each new basic joke, the laugh of the guardians outweighs the children.
Mr Gum (fantastically played by Steve Furst) is a scruffy bearded man with shabby clothes, who is desperate for a beer, but he’s also suspicious of the world around him. So much so, that when he finally finds an unopened can he makes his partner in crime, dim-witted Billy (Helena Lymbery), pour it down the drain just to make sure it’s real. Once it’s all poured, Mr Gum goes to take a rewarding sip, yet the can is now of course empty.
If you find that funny, then this show was made for the child within you, and if not, then maybe search a little deeper to find that immature joy.
The story goes that Polly (Keziah Joseph), the kindest, coolest and bravest girl of Lamonic Bibber discovers a Bear, (Kate Malyon, wearing a fantastically crafted outfit) wandering around the park. The lovely Polly decides she must return the bear, who she names Padlock, back to his home.
Meanwhile, Mr Gum discovers the bear and sets about capturing it in order to turn him in to a dancing bear, subsequently ensuring him a lifetime supply of money, which really means beer!
The story takes us all over the place; a boat, the sea, a magnificent forest, or on Jonathan Ripples’ (Gary Wilmot) quest to discover the snacks of the world. As we travel these sets, what is clear is the National’s ability to splurge on props, set designs and crazy costumes. Through Georgia Lowe’s design, the stage feels as colourful and creative as the books themselves.
Furthermore, the whole cast deserves a mention for their ability to play to both the adults and children. Richard Cant (playing Alan Tayler and Friday O’Leary) manages to remain composed and child-like. He brings real joy to the faces of the audience, as do the rest of the cast.
Some might argue that the show is let down by the simplicity of the Andy Stanton’s lyrics, but to think so would neglect the nature of the books themselves. While having Polly sing the lines ‘‘this is a sad song, you should feel sad for me now’’ may seem lazy, this is, in fact, the style of the writer.
Andy Stanton goes above and beyond with his book and lyrics, as both have numerous satirical jokes for the adults and more than enough bonkers enjoyment for the children. On top of this, the music by Jim Fortune is playful, experimental and full of surprise.
Mr Gum doesn’t try to be a traditional family musical, the beats and rhythms are not boring or predictable. While the risks don’t always pay off, for the most part it’s impossible not to get caught up in the fun and silliness of this intelligent children’s play.
And most importantly, throughout all the messing around, Andy Stanton still finds time to laugh about Boris Johnson.
Mr Gum and the Dancing Bear – the Musical! is playing at the Dorfman Theatre until 31 August. For more information and tickets, visit the National Theatre website.