It may have been another well-known bear that got to enjoy tea with the late Queen for the Platinum Jubilee, but it’s A.A. Milne’s beloved Winnie The Pooh who gets his very own stage musical. Having already delighted young audiences in New York, Jonathan Rockefeller’s new stage adaptation comes to the UK for a run at London’s Riverside Studios, before heading out on tour.
Milne’s characters were of course licensed by Disney, and their representation of Pooh and his companions have become the most easily recognisable, even more so than E.H. Shepard’s original illustrations. It’s these versions of the characters that come to the stage; delightful puppets brought to life by a spirited cast.
Rockefeller’s plush puppets are gorgeous to look at, and even the older audience members may feel the urge to give them a quick cuddle, because this is a show that takes us back to the innocence of childhood, and reminds us of the importance of friendship and looking out for each other.
Christopher Robin, the only human character, makes only two brief appearances, he is after all, off to school for the day. Winnie The Pooh finds himself hungry and in need of his favourite food, honey – or should that be hunny? So with the help of his friends; Piglet, Tigger, Kanga, Roo, Rabbit and Owl embarks on a great big adventure in Hundred Acre Wood.
Like Disney’s featurettes, Winnie The Pooh The Musical comprises several smaller stories within the main story arc. Each one takes place in a different season, and the beautifully detailed set adapts accordingly; covered in a blanket of snow as the group search out Mrs Winter, or with flowers blooming as Spring arrives.
There are just a handful of songs, but they’re all engaging for the younger audiences, especially those written by the Sherman Brothers, bringing yet another spoonful of Disney magic to the whole production.
The puppets are aided by their human counterparts, who are visible throughout; but as is the case when puppetry is done well, the movements and expressions on the humans don’t distract, but enhance the puppets performance. Jake Bazel, who transfers with the production from New York for the London run, captures the on screen persona of Pooh perfectly; nailing not just the mannerisms, but also the bemused like quality of Pooh’s voice.
Robbie Noonan is exuberant as Tigger, filled with unending energy, particularly during the hugely fun ‘Whoop De-Dooper Bounce’ which, much to the audiences delight also gets a reprise. Lottie Grogan’s Piglet is a real treat, especially as it’s the smallest of the puppet and requires even more dedication from Grogan.
At the opposite end of the scale, Chloe Gentles handles the life-sized Kanga with ease, while Alex Cardall has the unenviable task of portraying the downtrodden Eeyore, gregarious Rabbit and the wise Owl.
Bringing the spirit of A.A. Milne’s original characters to life, but with the familiarity of the Disney interpretations, it will come as no spoiler that Pooh finds his honey, and overindulges, just as we are allowed to indulge in this delightful treat for audiences of all ages.
Winnie The Pooh is at Riverside Studios until 21st May, and then tours until 2nd September, 2023. Full listings and ticket information can be found here.