After the hurdles families have faced in recent years, an all-ages show full of laughs and low stakes like Paddington Saves Christmas might be just what we need to ring in the holiday season.
In this touring show, running at the Seattle Children’s Theater through the end of the year, two actors play opposite a large Paddington Bear puppet, which requires three puppeteers to move through the 70-minute production. The characters and many plot elements are drawn from Michael Bond’s classic British picture books, but compared to its understated tone, the play – created and directed by Jonathan Rockefeller – is a much grittier and more slapstick affair.
Rockefeller (creator of theatrical adaptations “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and “Sesame Street the Musical”) created an original story for the play “Paddington Gets in a Jam” which opened in 2019 on Off Broadway and closed with the rest of the Theater World in March 2020. Now revived for a nationwide tour, ‘Paddington Gets in a Jam’ has been dressed in a Christmas jumper for its month-long Christmas run in Seattle.
The basic plot remains the same: Paddington tries to help his grumpy neighbor Mr. Curry, played by Kenon Veno, prepare for a visit from the ever-disapproving great-aunt Matilda, played by Casey Andrews. The accident-prone bear continues to demolish Mr. Curry’s house (a beautiful dollhouse designed to hide puppeteers Kyle Mahoney, Anthony White, and Ricky Downes III) room after room to clean up. But now tinsel adorns Mr. Curry’s living room and Paddington is baking a Christmas cake.
There’s just enough holiday cheer to set the mood for celebration and up the ante for Great Aunt Matilda’s visit. But there’s no “Christmas is canceled” low point and no heartfelt monologue à la Linus in Charlie Brown’s Christmas special. Nothing is fixed at the end of the story; Christmas is saved just because Paddington made great-aunt Matilda laugh. And that’s about as close to a moral as you’ll find. Paddington Saves Christmas is designed to entertain, and the humor is aimed squarely at its target audience: children aged 3 to 10, who may feel empowered by the fact that they know more about baking cakes and operating a vacuum cleaner than Paddington.
Adults will also have a lot of fun with the production. The set is a marvel and the puppetry is impressive. Paddington’s frequent refrain “You have to look like this” is a fun excuse to feature the bear in a variety of cute costumes (including his iconic peacoat and raincoat). There is certainly a touch of nostalgia. After all, Paddington has been entertaining children for 60 years, so many adult viewers have fond childhood memories of well-known Paddington antics like applying wallpaper paste with his paws.
But for adults, watching the children watch the play will probably bring the greatest joy. The squeaky childlike laughter that rolled through the theater at the youngsters’ first encounters with living snares and venerable gags like the cake on your face made even great-aunt Matilda smile.
On opening night, as Mr. Curry cartoonishly announced, “This is an emergency!” A tiny voice from near the front row called out, “Oh no!” And everyone who heard it shared a moment of peace and goodwill.