Review by Daz Gale
An iconic character has arrived in London as part of his latest adventure as a new musical adaptation of Winnie The Pooh plays a season at Riverside Studios ahead of a UK tour. With such a beloved character as this effortlessly entertaining generations with stories in TV and Film, could a stage adaptation ever manage to recreate that magic and would the end result leave me jumping for joy like Tigger… or have a reaction more suited to Eeyore?
For those who are unaware Winnie The Pooh is the classic character created by A.A Milne just shy of 100 years ago. The stories about the loveable bear have inspired multiple TV series and films and now it is the turn of the stage to get a bite of the hunny in this new musical adaptation first seen off-Broadway in 2021 and now here to entertain UK audiences.
The premise of this stage version sees Winnie facing an existential crisis after his friend Christopher Robin fails to turn up, resulting in a panicked search for… no, not his friend – honey. Priorities, people! As his regular supplier is nowhere to be seen, it is down to Winnie to go on an adventure in a quest for independence… well, just honey really. It might not be the most elaborate plot in the world but this is a show designed for children after all and in that respect it does exactly what it says on the jar.
There is something magical about walking on to Riverside Studios to being greeted with the sight of Hundred Acre Wood with a sprawling set design full of brilliant details that will make themselves known as the show progresses. From Rabbits vegetable patch to a tree that plays a huge part in the story later on, there’s a beautiful nostalgia of seeing this instantly recognisable world brought to life so effortlessly.
The classic characters are played by actors attached to (presumably) life-sized puppets. While there are a variety of methods when it comes to puppetry, this feels like the right choice for this production, showcasing the talents of the fantastic cast embodying these roles without hiding their faces behind the characters while still allowing you to suspend your disbelief and watch the perfect mannerisms and movements of these larger than life animals.
The title role of Winnie The Pooh is played by Jake Bazel, reprising his role from the production in New York. Jake is a marvel in the role, completely becoming the character and embodying all of his characteristics. From the note-perfect voice to the lethargic movement, Jake and Winnie become one and the same in a joyous performance that could make a fully grown adult feel like a kid again. Benjamin Durham plays the role at certain performances including the upcoming tour.
Pooh’s friends are also played by a truly sensational group of performers. Robbie Noonan delights with his infectiously enthusiastic portrayal of Tigger, Chloe Gentles is a joy as Kanga with Lottie Grogan delivering ridiculously cute performances as Piglet and Roo. Alex Cardall shows enormous versatility playing not one but three of Pooh’s friends – his Rabbit and Owl are both fantastic highlights but it’s his flawless Eeyore that truly steals the show.
The songs in the show were mostly written by the Sherman brothers, a number of which are instantly recognisable from the movies. From the classic title number to songs including ‘The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers’ and ‘Blustery Day’ each song is simple enough for kids to understand but sweet enough for adults to enjoy and all kept me smiling throughout. Just don’t expect a big 11 o clock number or epic finale – instead you get a series of pleasant numbers, each wonderfully performed.
Winnie The Pooh is a gorgeously told version of a legendary character, truly befitting of his legacy. Looking around the audience and seeing very small children gaze on in amazement in what may have been their introduction to live performance was a testament to the power of theatre and how a sense of wonder can be created on the stage. This sense of childlike wonder applies to adults too as you can't help but buy into how heartwarming it truly is. Even the coldest hearted person would melt from the magic of it all. I sat there with a grin on my face, feeling like a kid again even at the grand age of *mumbles* years old.
There is plenty about this new musical adaptation of Winnie The Pooh for people of all ages to enjoy - both kids and big kids will love this beautifully realised version. Not trying to rock the boat or reinvent the wheel (let’s talk about the recent horror movie version), this stage version is satisfyingly sweet and one show that kids aged 1 to 101 should definitely see. If you're stuck deciding whether or not you should bother giving this charming show a watch, trust me honey, you don't want to miss this.
Winnie The Pooh: The New Musical Stage Adaptation plays at Riverside Studios until 21st May. It then tours the UK and Ireland until 2nd September. Full dates and tickets at winniethepoohshow.co.uk
A relaxed performance takes place on 13th April. Tickets from riversidestudios.co.uk
Photos by Pamela Raith