MacKenzie Wojcik, Maggie Nagle, Toby Hughes, David Warburton in The House on Pooh Corner at MTYP (Leif Norman)
One of the hottest tickets in town right now is to see an 85-year-old bear.
And a Piglet. And even a Tigger.
Winnie-the-Pooh and company are back at Manitoba Theatre for Young People for a remount of the 2004 audience favourite The House at Pooh Corner.
And Pooh fans will certainly be pleased - this is a charming, gentle, lovely show, and makes for perfect holiday fare.
And while this might be faint praise with another production, it's no slight to say the real star of this production is William Chesney's enchanting set (beautifully lit by Bill Williams). The audience begins the show sitting in the auditorium, as usual, facing Christopher Robin's house, represented by a backdrop with a doorway. But shortly into the show, we're invited to step through that doorway, and into Hundred Acre Wood - Pooh's stomping grounds - and that's when the show truly becomes magical. (At the performance I attended, when the cast told the kids to stand up and walk through the doorway, one dubious patron uttered a surprised "Are you serious?")
Through the door, the audience sits surrounded by the wood - a ring of luminescent trees. It's quite spectacular and immersive, and a big part of why this show will captivate young theatre-goers. (For the adults, there are some more "comfortable" riser seats around the stage... and you do have to take your shoes off before you go onstage, so make sure you're wearing your good theatre socks.)
Once immersed in the world of Winnie, much of the success of Pooh Corner is due to a faithfulness to the source material on the part of Bettye Knapp, who adapts A.A. Milne's stories, and director Kim Selody. Both script and production deliver a child-like simplicity and warmth that fully capture the world of Winnie and his human friend, Christopher Robin (played here by a rotating cast of three young actors from the MTYP school).
The cast is filled out by three talented adult actors - Toby Hughes, Maggie Nagle, and David Warburton - who play the animal characters as puppets, and also act as narrators. The puppets are simple, but wonderful (designed by the fabulous local puppeteer Shawn Kettner). The actors, always visible, manipulate them and provide the voices. This is not the fanciest or most complex puppetry, but it does deliver that essential sense of "play".
Over the course of about an hour, we're treated to three episodes from Milne's book, all of which are charming. There are also songs scattered throughout the show, beautifully sung by a chorus of MTYP students.
The House at Pooh Corner, like the original Pooh stories, is not complicated, and it's certainly not the most dynamic kids show. But it draws young audiences into its gentle world so fully, it will hold the attention of young theatre-goers.
Not bad for an octogenarian bear.
Joff Schmidt, CBC Theatre Reviewer
Watch a clip of the production: