Chances are, the words to We’re Going on a Bear Hunt are already stuck in your head from those halcyon days crawling around on carpets.
Now Michael Rosen’s book about a family going on a bear hunt through the wilderness has been extended into a stage show by director Sally Cookson, coming from London’s West End for a tour of Australia.
Having read the book to her children when they were small, Cookson says, “I think one of the things that is so thrilling about the book is how it taps into, not only a child’s playfulness, but also that sense of being frightened.
“That’s a tangible pleasure. I remember myself as a child being chased by my dad up the stairs when he was pretending to be a monster. It has that delicious sense of anticipating something scary, but scary safe because it’s being read to you by your parents or someone that you trust.”
Using everyday objects that can be found in the classroom or home, with plastics for grass and paper cut-out butterflies, Cookson has developed a set that children can identify with, interact with, and then go home and do it all again.
One of the biggest challenges, she says, was deciding how much to make playful and how much to keep literal. “In the end, we decided it would be more exciting if we didn’t present things in a literal way. We extend all the visual pictures that we create. The grass becomes a moment of celebration with dancing as they explore the wildlife they find.
“There’s a long interactive section where the river floods into the audience and everyone gets wet. There’s lots of audience participation and each section is developed in a clown-like way.”
No stranger to children’s theatre, Cookson has directed everything from Peter Pan to Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and one lesson that’s stuck over the years is to never, ever become complacent when dealing with children.
“They have no inhibitions,” says Cookson. “Unlike an adult audience, who don’t let you know what they really think, young audiences will shout, ‘I’m bored! I want to go home! I don’t like this!’… You can’t be lazy.”
No chance of that. Expect the fourth wall to be broken down, expect to get a little bit wet and expect to get a little nervous as the bear gets closer… and closer.