Review

Only a real Eeyore wouldn't be charmed by MTYP's journey to Pooh Corner

Charming stories, an enchanting set and simple yet skilful puppetry draw audiences into the gentle magic of Manitoba Theatre for Young People's The House at Pooh Corner.

Manitoba Theatre for Young People's take on Winnie the Pooh is gentle magic

Aaron Pridham, Cherissa Richards and Simon Miron manipulate their characters in MTYP's The House at Pooh Corner. The puppetry in the show is seemingly simple, but effective in bringing the characters to life. (Leif Norman/Manitoba Theatre for Young People)

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.

Audiences are literally invited to step into Pooh's world, the Hundred Acre Wood. (Leif Norman/Manitoba Theatre for Young People)

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.

Aaron Pridham is one-third of a cast that skilfully juggles multiple roles and also narrates. (Leif Norman/Manitoba Theatre for Young People)

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.)

There's no attempt to hide the actors behind the puppets (here Cherissa Richards handles five), but the production's overall effect is immersive enough that we're drawn into Pooh's world. (Leif Norman/Manitoba Theatre for Young People)

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.

There's gentle magic enough to make The House at Pooh Corner well worth a visit. (Leif Norman/Manitoba Theatre for Young People)

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.

About the Author

Joff Schmidt

CBC theatre reviewer

Joff Schmidt is a copy editor for CBC Manitoba. Since 2005, he's also been CBC Manitoba's theatre critic on radio and online. He majored in theatre at the U of M, and performed in many university and Fringe festival productions along the way (ranging from terrible to pretty good, according to the reviews). Find him on Twitter @JoffSchmidt.