Get our free email newsletter with just one click

Mr Gum and the Dancing Bear – the Musical! review at National Theatre, London – ‘a bear-illiant musical adaptation’

Gary Wilmot, Keziah Joseph, Kate Malyon and Ricard Cant in Mr Gum and the Dancing Bear at the National Theatre, London. Photo: The Other Richard

From the fairytales of the Brothers Grimm to the creations of Roald Dahl, the best children’s stories always have a healthy dose of the macabre, the eccentric and, most of all, a really good baddie.

So it is with Andy Stanton’s Mr Gum and the Dancing Bear. Amy Hodge’s musical staging for seven-year-olds and over (book and lyrics by Stanton, music by Jim Fortune) opens with a giant slab of bloody, congealed meat dangling over a wheelbarrow. From there it just gets more delightfully weird and endlessly inventive.

Nine-year-old Polly (Keziah Joseph) lives in Lamonic Bibber, a dozy sunflower-lined town in which nothing much happens. One day, a shaggy, snuffly and moulting bear (Kate Malyon) lumbers into town. The evil Mr Gum (Steve Furst) and his hapless butcher sidekick (Helena Lymbery) want to capture poor Padlock (as Polly names him). They want him to dance so they can raise beer money.

From there, Polly and co set off to the dark and dingy docks “where life is cheap and death is on special offer all year round” and then to sea, with Padlock disguised as Purface, a very large, pink-eared cat. Along the way they meet Alan Taylor, possibly the only gingerbread scholar in the world, and eventually return Padlock to the wild.

All in, it’s mad as a shook-up box of frogs, crammed with hilarious lyrics and off-kilter humour. And all while delivering a beautiful message of friendship, happiness, ecological awareness, working together and loving bears. Lovely.

We need your help…

When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.

The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.

We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.

Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.

Subscribers to The Stage get 10% off The Stage Tickets’ price
This madcap musical adaptation of Andy Stanton’s children’s book is bear-illiant