It’s a well-loved book, but one of few words, so we were curious to understand how this tale of a bear who has lost his hat could be strung out to meet the anticipated 55 minute running time at the National Theatre.
Sitting snuggled in the cosy Temporary Theatre, surrounded by twinkly chilli lights and seasonal decorations, the little red pointy hat that is the subject of the story suddenly takes on a new significance. A festive little party hat that seemingly celebrates the diversity of family Christmas theatre beyond the popular schmaltz or Pantomime that used to feature so heavily at this time of year.
Perfectly cast, Marek Larwood brilliantly captures the ‘oaf-like’ character of the bear from the book, as we are introduced to a life-long love affair with the hat, set at a time much earlier than the original story begins. Bear falls asleep in the forest and it isn’t long before the wonders of his beautiful pointy red hat are appreciated by a passing rabbit, a tap dancing opportunist, who can’t believe his luck as he manages to schnaffle it into his possession.
When bear awakes, the accusations fly, starting with us, the suspicious looking audience. One by one, we then meet the characters that bear encounters in search of his hat: the fox, the frog, the snake, the long suffering tortoise and his quest to climb over the rock, and of course the culprit himself. Each are imaginatively portrayed and perfectly accompanied by Arthur Darvill’s mischievous music, which moves jauntily from brass band to big band and back again.
How well this lively production is received is apparent on the faces of viewers young and old. Grown ups and older children have hysterics at the various daft scenarios and gleeful dancing, while the slightly confused younger ones, still getting to grips with this representation of their beloved book, continually try to put bear out of his misery by unveiling the truth. Unperturbed, every impatient outburst is met with a wry response.
With a quirky set and bags of clever props, this production of Jon Klassen’s modern classic definitely has enough giggles and surprises to fire the imagination of even the youngest of viewers. Even die-hard fans will welcome the introduction of a slightly extended ending, which sees a more remorseful bear, now reunited with his hat. But with his enjoyment never quite the same, bear begins to set about turning something bad into something good, leaving rest of us to thank them for for turning something great into something quite brilliant.
I Want My Hat Back is at the National Theatre, Temporary Theatre, Upper Ground SE1 9PX, until 2 January 2016. Recommended age 3+. Tickets £12 and £15 (under 18s £10). Londonist attended on a complimentary press ticket.