Brave explorer, brave explorer, what do you see?
I see a model ship – small yet carefully detailed in its antiquated rigging – beckoning me.
Model ship, model ship, what do you see?
I see blustery snowflakes – like all the incidental characters in Antarctica, played with unselfconscious verve and a touch of gleeful aggression by Dominic Conway and Clare Beresford – roiling the sea.
Blustery snowflakes, blustery snowflakes, what do you see?
We see Antartica’s creatures – a family of penguins, in dinner jackets of course (Verity Sadler’s design is economical and smart), Dad doltish, Mum impatient, clucking over an egg that hatches to the cuddliest of puppets; pesky birds, aggressive swooping creatures that prove unexpectedly elegant settled atop a glacier constructed from Conway’s elastic body and a silken white sheet; rambunctious seals, honking and clapping and delighted with their own rotund absurdity – stealing the show blissfully.
Creatures, creatures, what do you see?
We see the mysteries of sea and sky – the aurora australis created from a mirror ball and a few coloured lights; the depths of the ocean conveyed by so many floating bubbles and luminous jellyfish constructed from plastic bags and a huge whale that, in a neat shift of perspective, dwarfs the Brave Explorer – and marvel at their simple beauty.
Sea and sky, sea and sky, what do you see?
We see the Owlabear – and this really is a triumph of twee loveliness, a bulky creature with soft snowy fur and clumsy feet, so shy that the children must whisper to beckon it towards them, so cunning that it emerges only when the Brave Explorer’s back is turned, so romantic that its favourite thing to do is pirouette – galumphing gracefully.
Owlabear, Owlabear, what do you see?
I see a happy mummy – there are lots of parents here, and their enjoyment is important, but this particular mummy has been a fan of Little Bulb since stumbling across their show Crocosmia (the heart-rending one about little kids facing up to the death of their parents) at the Edinburgh festival in 2008, became obsessed with their show Operation Greenfield (the heartfelt one about gawky teenagers who form a band that has an unforgettably genius hyperspeed sequence of scenes of daily adolescent life set to Arcade Fire’s Antichrist Television Blues), is still reeling from the purity of Clare Beresford’s soprano unleashed in their cardboard-and-poster-paint folk opera Sporadical, and loved Squally Showers (the anti-Thatcherism, anti-despondency one set in a 1980s newsroom and mostly danced because, y’know, they’d never tried dancing before, so why not?) so much that she saw it twice in the space of a month; and this particular mummy recognises lots of the aesthetic and charm of these shows in Antarctica, but also thinks Little Bulb have done something specifically brilliant here: they’ve made a show that functions like a children’s picture book, the kind that is low on story and high on rhythm and structural repetition, the kind that, with every turn of the page, introduces a new brightly coloured image to explore, the kind that children gladly read again and again (and sure enough, this particular mummy’s smallest, aged five, ends up seeing Antarctica twice and finds it equally mesmerising both times), and parents take pleasure in reading to them – waving and whispering to me.
Happy mummy, happy mummy, what do you see?
I see a room full of children – including my coming-up-to-eight-year-old, who was anxious that a show for 2-6s would be too young for her – faces radiant, attention absorbed, responding to the invitation to be part of the Brave Explorers Club readily and joyfully.