Deep in the London borough of Hammersmith, also known as the temporary theatrical home for the Hundred Acre Wood, the musical stage adaptation of Winnie the Pooh is currently playing at the relaxed Riverside Studios. The newest Disney franchise to make it onto stage, Winnie the Pooh brings everybody’s favourite furry friends to life in a 65-minute piece of live theatre. Jonathan Rockefeller’s production has recently transferred to London from an off-Broadway run in New York and ever since it was announced last year, I have been extremely excited to see the musical.
It’s no secret that I am a huge Pooh fan, I frequently spend time in the real-life Hundred Acre Wood (Ashdown Forest) and I recently had Christmas dinner with Pooh and friends at the Crystal Palace in Magic Kingdom. Did the show reach up to my high expectations? Is this adaptation purely for children or can long-time Pooh fans enjoy it too? These are the questions I hope to answer today in my review of the London production of Winnie the Pooh.
Celebrating the seasons and the changes that they bring, the stage show follows Pooh’s quest to find some honey. An example of joyous, family entertainment that celebrates the things in life that we too often overlook, Pooh enlists some help from his friends on the journey. Whilst finding honey is the central theme, there are lots of moments where each of the characters share their own individual goals for the day. The action never strays far from the core values of the Hundred Acre Wood though: friendship and adventure.
Who is Winnie the Pooh for?
Out of the Disney theatrical adaptations, Winnie the Pooh is definitely the most appropriate for children. From the adorable puppets to the innocence of the script, the musical doesn’t have the same number of layers as Frozen, Aladdin, The Lion King or Mary Poppins. Everything can be taken at face value and has been designed with cuteness in mind.
As a result, the content feels slightly young, even for ultimate Pooh fans like me. I had hoped that the creative team would strike a balance between reaching out to the younger fans and also appealing to adults who have loved the characters for years. Unfortunately they fall slightly short on making this happen. It is the first time that I have had this impression from any of the Disney shows, so I think Winnie the Pooh is definitely targeted at a younger audience than its predecessors. Despite this, it is a lovely, gentle show and ideal for families.
The puppets absolutely make the show for me! The creative team have captured each of A. A. Milne’s characters perfectly, making audiences feel as if they are watching real versions of Winnie the Pooh and friends. The puppets are extremely fluffy and sweet and this is before they even start moving, so it’s fair to say audiences will fall in love with the characters as soon as they arrive on stage.
The puppeteers wear pastel outfits and harnesses which connect them to their puppets. The decision not to dress the puppeteers in black contributes to the aesthetic of the whole show, allowing the performers to fit in with the colours of the Hundred Acre Wood sets. I found myself absolutely fascinated by the mechanics of the puppets. The actors are joined to their puppets through harnesses and attachments to their feet, providing them with the opportunity to move freely but also leaving plenty of room for dynamic facial expressions above the puppets’ heads. If you like the behind the scenes side of theatre, I can’t recommend Winnie the Pooh enough for inquisitive theatre goers.
This is a difficult one as the Pooh characters have such distinct voices in the Disney films and there were times within the stage show where I didn’t find the voices believable. Pooh has such a recognisable voice which is extremely difficult to recreate and at times the voice acting misses the mark for me. However I was particularly impressed by Alex Cardall’s Tigger, so much so that when the character appeared on stage, the production felt as if it had gained new life! You couldn’t help but want to join in with Tigger and Roo when they bounced all over the stage.
From the moment that I walked into Riverside Studios’ stage two, I was wowed by the blue backdrop. For a simple set, it really captures the atmosphere of the Hundred Acre Wood with the vibrant sky, the memorable bridge and river for playing Pooh sticks. In terms of technology, there isn’t a lot that changes throughout the one act show, but the set does receive minimal makeovers for each season, which is a creative transitional touch.
This production is definitely targeted at a much younger audience than me, but I did still thoroughly enjoy the one act woodland adventure. The puppets are adorable and the mechanics behind them are really interesting, leaving plenty for theatre fans to digest.
The target demographic makes the theatre going experience completely different for Winnie the Pooh. It is certainly more relaxed than other shows and children of all ages are welcome at Riverside Studios. I look forward to seeing how the creative team will bring this inviting and homely atmosphere to regional theatres when it heads out on tour, specifically larger and more formal venues than Hammersmith. We are fortunately getting the show in Canterbury at The Marlowe Theatre and I can’t wait to see how the material and atmosphere differs as a touring production. Tickets for the London run can be purchased from the Disney Tickets website and tickets for Canterbury are available via The Marlowe Theatre.
Thanks for reading my blog today.
Love Kat xxxx