There’s a calming, cosy atmosphere on arrival at Polka’s Adventure Theatre for Grandad, Me and Teddy Too. A beautifully restful palette, designed by Katie Lias, dresses the set where Mia (Katherine Carlton) is spending some quality time with her bear, Teddy Too (played by himself). The audience of small people and their adults are made very welcome, with Teddy Too waving to other bears who’ve come to join in. They are waiting for Grandad (Gordon Warnecke) to visit from Argentina in two days’ time.
Writer and Director Sarah Argent’s work is an exquisitely observed study of the relationship between a small child and her grandfather. It beautifully enacts the intricate moments of ritual that make up a child’s life, capturing them with refreshing clarity and joyful humour. There’s a reassuring, rhythmic repetition as Mia follows the same routine each day, playing with her toys and ticking off the calendar as she excitedly anticipates Grandad’s arrival, and it’s impossible not to laugh in recognition as she takes her duck for a walk.
As many families did during the recent pandemic, Mia and Grandad meet each day via video link, both bringing something unique to the encounter. The smaller audience members seem to see themselves in Mia as she waits, happily giggling along at her impatience and eagerness. But when Grandad arrives in the flesh, Mia finds the experience feels slightly different to her expectations. Together they have to manage their altered relationship.
The story is impeccably paced by Argent’s precision direction. The two highly amiable actors allow their characters measured space as events unfold, to breathe the transition in. It’s a skilful to and fro. Underscoring this, twinkling music and lights are used sparingly but beautifully effectively to emphasise important moments, or changes in location, accentuating the careful storytelling with sensory sparkle.
Across the 45 minute performance the audience of children and adults are completely entranced. When a toy plane spins around on the ceiling to represent Grandad’s long flight there are audible gasps of surprise. The play emphasises the value of attentiveness – to each other and to our mutual world, and in the garden there’s a special moment as we share with the characters their enjoyment of the radiant beauty of a shining cobweb.
This is a story of compromise, of consideration when negotiating social interactions, and it’s wonderfully insightful and wise. The atmosphere is completely caring, as the characters listen to and respect each other. And that’s where Teddy Too plays a vital role. He is Mia’s best friend and confidante – her security. He sits in the space with the two humans and becomes an extension through which they can communicate, having tea together, playing and learning about each other. Importantly, Grandad respects him, making him part of the new relationship that develops. When he sets off home, Grandad takes their shared experience with him, and initiates a new ritual across the virtual space that comes from their adventures together.
The show deals delicately with so many important themes – expectation, surprise, permission, adaptation, compromise – and it celebrates the value of communicating through imaginative play. It is a delightfully heart-warming, cosy production, perfect for adults and children alike, which creates a moment for the spectators to own and reflect upon their relationships and treasure that time. Of course the hero of the show is Teddy Too, who is key to inviting the young audience and their own teddies to access this charming space of observation and learning. What a star!
Written and Directed: Sarah Argent
Design by: Katie Lias
Lighting Design by: Jonathan Chan
Composition and Sound Design by: Greg Hall
Produced by: Polka Theatre
Grandad, Me and Teddy Too has a recommended age range of 2-5 years. It plays at Polka Theatre until 29 January. Further information and bookings can be found here.