It’s been two years since the pandemic put us under house arrest, condemning us to our pajamas and confining us to our bedrooms. Left to our own devices (quite literally), we missed out on the joys of live performance that our pixels fail to provide.
Now, our cells have since swung open, opening with them fresh arts venues to explore. Emerging from our dwellings into this crisp December month, the air is teeming with holiday spirit along with a hankering for festive antics.
Served on a platter with a side of marmalade jam, what could be better than a holiday visit gone awry at the paws of a bear to kick off the Christmas season? Taking place at Seattle Children's Theatre, Paddington Saves Christmas is a festively fun adventure that will delight kiddies and parents alike.
As the lights dim and you settle into your seat, Paddington’s lilting British accent chimes across the auditorium. With polite ingenuity, he requests parents to sheath their cellular devices, lest they want to earn “hard stares” from their children. Greeted with fluttering giggles and chuckles, the set illuminates for the opening scene.
A dollhouse in design, the display consists of a four-room home divided across two floors, each glowing alight when entered. Accompanied by a cheerful musical track, Mr. Curry (Kenon Veno), Paddington’s woesome neighbor, groggily rouses from his bed in his plaid jammies. Remembering his austerely clean Great Aunt Matilda (Casey Andrews) is bound for her annual holiday visit, Curry is frantic to ready himself and his home to her standards. Veno superbly embodies Curry’s distress throughout the scenes with a consistent barrage of sweeping hand gestures, accompanied with melodramatic inflections in tone. As the play is targeted toward children from ages around three to seven, the exaggeration exercised in each of Veno’s scenes serves to make the plot more obvious and comprehensible to the particularly young.
The story continues with Paddington ringing Curry’s doorbell to request a cup of sugar. Unbeknownst to Paddington, he will soon be enlisted to perfect Curry’s home. Paddington is a life size plushie with lively bodily movements puppeteered by a skillful trio (Kyle Mahoney, Anthony White, and Ricky Downes III). With the set concealing the puppeteers, Paddington appears autonomous as he is maneuvered to pick up objects and travel between rooms.
An entourage of catastrophic calamities is quick to ensue. From sucking Curry’s portrait of Great Aunt Matilda into a vacuum to flooding the top floor of the house with a bathroom sink mishap, Paddington’s endeavors seem to only backfire. At one point, when clutching the very object in his paw, he inquires aloud, “Now where could the soap be?”. This leaves the audience shaking their heads amusedly at the senseless bear’s antics. From his innocent, unwavering smile (etched in his very fabric), to his utmost willingness to aid his woesome neighbor, Paddington remains endearing throughout his unintended obliteration of Curry's home.
Before performing a new task, Paddington memorably recites, “In order to do the job, first you must look the part!”. This leaves children anticipating wardrobe changes, as many adore playing dress up themselves. From puffy chef hats to reflective raincoats, Paddington’s costumes do not disappoint. Similarly, outrageous gags like the replacement of Curry’s portrait of Great Aunt Matilda with a fruit bowl arranged into a tangerine-banana frown, and an iconic cake smash scene, appeal to the silly humor little ones enjoy. The evident lack of realism makes the play all the more engaging to this demographic; from the script to the acting, absurdity is fully embraced with every scene.
Modeled after the original Paddington stories by Michael Bond, playwright Jonathan Rockefeller brilliantly fuses defining elements from the originals with well-timed slapstick humor, topped with a gratifying Christmas twist. As always, the bear retains his amiable disposition and—of course—his love for marmalade jam. With a background in theatrical adaptations such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Sesame Street the Musical, Rockefeller is well-acquainted with the children's theater scene, as seen with his appeals to childhood interests.
Since productions have halted these past few years, many children are now experiencing theater for the first time. A warm welcome to all that’s been missed, Paddington Saves Christmas is where the magic of the holidays and the wonder of theater production collide. With only three characters in its entirety, the play successfully captures the curiosity of countless adolescent minds. Exiting the auditorium, a sea of youthful faces could be seen gleaming with awe after seeing their imaginations brought to life before their very eyes—that’s real magic.
Paddington Saves Christmas took place at Seattle Children's Theatre Company on November 15 - December 31, 2022. For more information see here.