Only a real Eeyore wouldn't be charmed by MTYP's journey to Pooh Corner
Manitoba Theatre for Young People's take on Winnie the Pooh is gentle magic
A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh stories have remained a staple for kids for nearly a century, though by modern standards they're remarkably simple and a bit old-fashioned.
Perhaps the simplicity of those stories, and their old-fashioned, unhurried style are the very reasons they've endured — and this 2004 stage adaptation by Bettye Knapp and Kim Selody, returning to Manitoba Theatre for Young People for a third time, embraces that simplicity with a production that relies on some basic stagecraft to create something quite captivating.
Drawing on short stories from A.A. Milne's 1928 collection of the same name, The House at Pooh Corner invites audiences into the world of the famous bear — quite literally.
While we begin seated in the auditorium, the audience is soon guided through the backdrop representing the home of Pooh's child friend, Christopher Robin, and into Pooh's home, the Hundred Acre Wood.
William Chesney's set is a cozy and welcoming wood, where luminescent trees surround us and the action plays out in a semicircle around the audience.
We watch as Pooh and his friends, including fretful Piglet, the eternally dour donkey Eeyore and the irrepressible Tigger, tackle a series of minor crises, like building a new home for Eeyore, finding something Tigger will actually eat or helping their friend Owl find a new home.
They're largely uncomplicated stories, and the stagecraft employed here is, at least on the surface, also straightforward.
Pooh and his animal pals are represented by puppet designer Shawn Kettner's impeccable plushie-style dolls, which are manipulated by the cast of three — Simon Miron, Cherissa Richards and Aaron Pridham.
Each skilfully juggles multiple roles, finding the essence in all of Milne's characters, and the trio also act as our narrators. (The cast also get help from girls and boys in the audience who are called upon at different points in the show to stand in as Christopher Robin — a nice touch, though they don't actually get to do all that much.)
The performers manipulate the stuffies in plain sight — there's no attempt here to hide the actor behind the puppet.
Yet the stories are so charming, and the combination of enchanting set, performance, puppetry and a few simple tunes sprinkled throughout are so immersive, that we're drawn into the world of Pooh and his friends by director Pablo Felices-Luna's production. It's simple — but effective — stage magic.
It's also, in its ending — as Christopher Robin prepares to go to school and say goodbye to his Hundred Acre Wood friends — quite moving.
It's not dynamic or flashy theatre. It's gentle enough for preschoolers and the under-eight elementary school crowd, though possibly a bit too basic for most kids much older than that. And its hour-long running time, though kid-friendly enough, is probably a bit longer than it really needs to be.
But no matter. There's gentle magic enough here to make The House at Pooh Corner well worth a visit.
The House at Pooh Corner runs at Manitoba Theatre for Young People until Dec. 30.