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We’re Going on a Bear Hunt: Interview with Joseph Carey

Michael Jean-Marain

“We’re going on a bear hunt. We’re going to catch a big one. I’m not scared. What a beautiful day!”

Kenny Wax Family Entertainment’s theatre adaptation of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt tours the UK this year. Michael Rosen’s much-loved story of a family’s exploration through the natural world has been a children’s classic for years. Now, Sally Cookson’s action-packed production returns the tale once again to the stage. We talk to Joseph Carey, the actor behind DAD, about his role, nature and acting for kids.
Culture Calling: Hi Joseph, thank you for talking with us today.  The Kenny Wax stage adaptation of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt is on tour right now! You play the children’s DAD. Can you tell us a little about your character?
Joseph Carey: Looking at the stories and the lovely illustrations in the book, I thought he was someone who quite enjoyed being out in nature. Someone who might walk past a hedgerow and say, “Look at that – that’s rocket salad!” or something like that. One of those natural foragers. I thought he was someone who would like to wander outside and explore the countryside and nature.
There’s a lovely moment in the show where the children are trying to tell him that the little baby is learning to walk. But actually Dad is busy saying “Look at this wild garlic here.” He’s infatuated with this thing on the forest floor. Meanwhile this very important life moment is happening. Eventually he realises and runs over. He’s that sort of character.

Joseph Carey preparing for the show.
Joseph Carey. Photo Credit: Michael Jean-Marain
CC: It’s such a well-known and well-loved story. Do you have to be a little careful when adapting popular characters?
JC: If you talk to parents and families, people have a connection with this story. People have grown up with this story. But what’s nice about the book is that there is quite a lot of space in the story to find your own character, and make him your own. The show begins with the family exploring the audience – the audience are the first natural environment in a way. He starts asking them lots of questions, and it turns into a moment of kafuffle and confusion. From the onset we try and bring the audience into this world of the family. As we all know, families can be quite hectic.
CC:  The play is for kids. Is this chaos and interaction something you’ve brought in particularly for younger audiences? Do you have to change the way you act for children?
JC: Before I go on stage, I always imagine there’s a child in the auditorium who will be going to the theatre for the first time – their first experience of theatre. Obviously that’s different to an adults show because adults have been to the theatre before, and have an expectation of what might be coming. But with children it’s a first time experience. There’s a lovely rawness to that, and it makes that particular show, that particular day, unique. Sometimes it gives the performance a natural chemistry, because children might not react the way they “should”.
CC: The book is obviously based on a very catchy, repeating chant “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt (etc.)”. How do you bring that to life on stage?
JC: We build up to this moment when we start to talk to the audience and we start to explain that we are looking for a bear. But we’ve not actually seen one before, so we need them to tell us what a bear is like. It’s big, it’s brown, it’s furry. It culminates in this moment where we think we know what the bear looks like and then we break into the song or the chant.
There’s a bit of fear factor in the play – what’s this bear going to be like. It’s building up to this big reveal. The song is a reminder to the audience that we’re not scared and that we’re all going to be alright really. It’s almost like the performers checking in with the audience saying: “We’re not scared, are we.”

The cast of We're Going On A Bear Hunt
Photo Credit: Ben Harrison, Bear Hunt Productions.
CC: As you say, the big reveal is finding the bear. How do you manage that moment? Should we expect to be scared? Is it a funny moment?
JC: The majority of the show is about these terrains that we cross: the grass, the river, the mud, the snowstorm. We really embrace those moments and immerse ourselves, and almost forget we are on a bear hunt at times. But there’s always a reminder from somewhere that there is actually a bear out there. It’s quite an important thing in children’s theatre to have that sense of fear – we don’t know how it is going to evolve. One of the great things about the director, Sally Cookson, is that she doesn’t give everything on a plate to children – they have to discover slowly. “How are we going to do this? How is the bear going to be revealed?” And it eventually comes. There is a big chase, and then back into the safeness of the home. It’s a big build up all the way through – and I think you have to come see it to really experience the bear.
CC: What were your favourite pieces of children’s literature or theatre growing up? And what did you draw on when creating your character for the show?
JC: I remember The Cat in the Hat – a classic Dr. Seuss. It has that kind of chaos that we create. I have two children, 7 and 9. They’ve been able to enjoy coming on a journey with me. And maybe, as they grow up, maybe I’ll go back into adult theatre and grow up with them!
We’re Going on a Bear Hunt is on tour now. For a full list of dates, see online.