Free-Rain's holiday production of Winnie the Pooh does a fine job of continuing the lives of A.A. Milne's immortal characters and of tickling the fancy of its target audience. Director Amy Dunham and her team astutely judge and cater to these theatregoers.
The fledgling end of this already young audience is accommodated at the theatre front on a specially "grassed" area. Here they are addressed directly and are encouraged to participate. The eager response (occasionally overeager) of this part of the audience at the opening performance - obeying commands, answering questions and shouting directions - suggests that this will be part of the special appeal of this production.
The production is colourfully and cheerfully set and costumed. Fiona Leach's outfits wisely borrow and build on E.H. Shepard's celebrated illustrations for Winnie the Pooh. This allows the production to exploit the audience's familiarity with the characters and it is gratifying to report that even the youngest of the audience seemed to have a long-standing knowledge of and fondness for these characters.
The eight short scenes of this pared-down version still manage to include most of the episodes of the first Pooh book. The 100 Aker Wood is host to Christopher Robin's ''friends" as they hunt heffalumps, search for Eeyore's tail, try to satisfy Tigger's hunger and cheer Eeyore up with a birthday party. The essence of the book - the celebration of friendship and of the pleasures of exploration and discovery - is affectionately captured.
The young cast work energetically to engage the less-than-predictable audience and in representing Milne's characters. Miles Thompson is a rather tall Pooh and Zach Drury could be more Eeyore-ish (a natural cheerfulness isn't always suppressed) but all do their characters justice. Thompson gives the right amount of naive enthusiasm to the "silly old bear", while Sam Needham conveys a sense of youthful wonder in his Christopher Robin.
Rachel Thornton displays nice timing in her bright, enthusiastic Piglet. Lachlan Whan's theatrical instincts rightly encourage him to be big and loud and bouncy as Tigger, and he is a big hit as a result. Kitty McGarry rounds out the cast nicely with performances of comforting authority as two characters, Nanny and Kanga.
For adults in the audience, the relatively short duration - 45 minutes - might be the selling point but you would have to be a true Eeyore not to see the charm and humour of this warm-hearted and well-judged production.