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The Cranky Bear is a popular creature at our house. Our five-year-old knows the story pretty much by rote and “roars” with glee at all appropriate moments. So there was much excitement when the two kids learnt we were off to see the Cranky Bear theatre production at the Burrinja Cultural Centre in Victoria’s Dandenongs these school holidays.

“Is it a story? Or a movie?” Miss 5 kept asking, unable to comprehend what we were about to experience. “Like a puppet show,” I said. “But with people dressed up in costumes!”

The Cranky Bear show is, of course, based on the much-loved children’s book by Nick Bland. This theatre adaptation is the work of the Adelaide-based Patch Theatre Company, which specialises in producing high-quality theatre that “energises the creative instincts” of four to eight year olds.

The story is presented as a cabaret show to make the most of the flamboyant personalities of Zebra, Lion and Moose. The 45-minute show kicks off with three brightly dressed entertainers singing the book’s whole story while accompanying themselves on banjo, ukulele and guitar. At the conclusion of the song, a few shocked young voices exclaimed, “Is it finished?” But the fun was just beginning.
The MC Nicholas Cannon pops out and greets the kids, before explaining that the show consists of six scenes:
• The Jungle
• Four Little Friends
• The Cranky Bear Experience
• Zebra, Lion and Moose’s Big Idea
• What Bear Wants
• A Kind and Thoughtful Sheep
Throughout the show, he keeps the kids informed, changing the scenes via boards set up on an easel on the side of the stage.

The production has just three actors who come on and off the stage, swapping costumes and characters with great speed and flair. It’s a very musical-based show, with plenty of singing and dancing to keep the little ones entertained as well as some humorous lines for the mums and dads.

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During The Cranky Bear Experience the performers ask for audience participation and select four kids to “become” the four central characters of the story. Each child is given the head piece of their particular character – Moose, Lion, Zebra and Sheep – and are taken into Bear’s cave where they play a feisty card game of Snap much to Bear’s displeasure.

My kids loved seeing Bear (Tim Overton) dressed up in a sparkly mane and glitter antlers draped with a black and white stripy scarf during Zebra, Lion and Moose’s Big Idea. He wins plenty of laughs when, with a flourish, he throws this ridiculous headpiece out of his cave.

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However, it is the tiny and unassuming Sheep (Michaela Burger) who steals the show with her gorgeous, cuddly, woolly costume. Both kids agree that their favourite part is when Sheep hides behind the curtains and shaves off her fleece with an electric razor, flinging balls of wool out onto the stage. She then runs around in her sparkly stilettoes collecting the pieces in a cotton bag to make a pillow for the Cranky Bear’s head.

Our audience was young (many two, three and four year olds) but there were older children too. Miss 8 enjoyed watching the singing, dancing and nostril wiggling but was just as interested in the nitty gritty such as “Did Sheep really cut up her costume with the razor?” “That’s not how you play Snap!” and, “I can see Lion’s sparkly top under Michaela’s Sheep costume!”

The show is perfectly pitched at Miss 5 who is currently immersed in Nick Bland books such as The Very Hungry Bear, The Very Brave Bear and – of course – The Very Cranky Bear.
We thoroughly enjoyed Cranky Bear. The show is not just entertaining but also explores themes such as overcoming shyness, finding courage, acting with integrity, feeling empathy and the importance of kindness. It is wonderful to see the misunderstood Cranky Bear finally find a friend to cheer him up and help resolve his problems.

Cranky Bear has just started its national tour which will take in Darwin, Western Australia, Queensland, NSW and wrap up in back in Victoria in October.

Kids at Cranky Bear

Summary

Targeted demographic: The Patch Theatre Company recommends the show for children aged 4 to 8.
Photography: Audience members are asked to turn off their phones and cameras during the show.
Duration: The show length is approximately 45 minutes with no interval.
Dates: Cranky Bear will be on at The Memo in Healesville, Victoria, on Friday 3 July, before heading to Darwin on Wednesday 8 July, then Western Australia, Queensland, NSW and back to Victoria. The final show in the national tour will be on Tuesday 20 October in Mildura.
Cost: Each venue sells its own tickets at varying prices. The Burrinja Cultural Centre charged $15 each or $12 family 4+. We received a free program booklet and a 10% off voucher for all Nick Bland titles at the Scholastic online store.

Book your tickets now or your kids will be the cranky ones! Visit www.patchtheatre.org.au for full details of the 2015 National Australian Touring Season.