One of most pleasurable things you can witness is someone doing something well. And for me that can be anything from watching my favourite barista at Pausa cafe wiggle the milk into a fern frond, those hard rock- candy guys in the rocks snip and twist hot sugar, or a skilled performer do what they do – entertain.

There is also a grand pleasure in works of art made for children – literature, music, theatre – and I indulge and delight in it frequently (yes, I have a collection of vintage golden books to prove it). In my Canadian life I am the writer of many children’s musicals and plays – it’s something I really relish and delight in. And there is little that can inspire and delight me more than an afternoon show made for children. There is a style of adventure and morality and humour and theatricality that delights me – gives me permission to react – and reminds me of important life messages “be patient,” “be brave,” “believe in yourself”, “sometimes adults are crazy,” “it’s ok to make mistakes” etc. Stuff that we all need to be reminded of.

It was the second last performance at the Ensemble of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, a delightful adaptation by Anna Crawford & Mark Kilmurry of the book (and rhyme) by Michael Rosen. A cast of four – Felix Gentle, Douglas Hansell, Catherine McGraffin, Shondelle Pratt and a character list that includes a bear, a dog, a goofy dad, a flatulent baby, a boy, a girl and a whole bunch of sounds.

Set up on the side of the stage a jumble of sound makers – found objects, toys and musical instruments waiting to make some noise… when I sit down (the only unaccompanied person there – yes I was there without a parent, nor a child) the actors are busy giving high-fives to children who are shy or violently excited. The air thick with anticipation.

Before long the show starts we can see and hear the live foley (as created by Shondelle Pratt). Felix Gentle (boy) and Catherine McGraffin (Girl) are in the usual sibling rivalry – and before long Dad reveals his secret past as a bear hunter… and the mission to hunt a bear begins.

It is impossible not to delight in all the transformations in this show – as audience we delight in the transformation of the adults into children, we delight in the sounds coming from the objects on stage, the songs, the vulnerability/bravado/stupidity of dad (Douglas Hansell). We get into the rhythm of the refrains “Can’t go over it, can’t go under it…”
It’s a constantly moving, progressing and revealing show – where all the characters are interesting – even the baby (puppet work by the cast, gurgles/voice by Shondelle Pratt). I must say though – one of the more dramaturgically confusing numbers is “Doglish” where Max the dog explains to us how to speak dog- language – thankfully it’s saved by the fact it is spell binding to watch the choreography of a dog puppet who is manipulated by three actors – outrageously delightful with a touch of sassy Mick Jagger thrown in. Awesome.

Catherine McGraffin has a fine and strong voice – and plays the evil sister with relish, Felix Gentle is our soft hero who makes good, Douglas Hansell is the charming/goofy dad who we all love and all find comfortably flawed. Shondelle Pratt gives a punchy, sassy, performance – with the skill of an orchestra’s percussionist (all those different instruments and cues!). Anna Crawford keeps the story moving, and there is more room for audience interaction and engagement – but it’s such a rollicking adventure sometimes it seems a shame to break the momentum.

And at the end of it a story about friendship and courage and adventure and cooperation and problems solving… (if only the season was extended/I caught it earlier to make it more recommended viewing.)

All in all – a beautiful, fun, creative and engaging show for all ages, done well – and so, a complete pleasure.