There is a trick to it, you know; wrestling a polar bear. But I can’t give it away, as we were sworn to secrecy, my very special date and I.

Bob Kelly is a rather accomplished Sligo actor, with strong ties to the award winning Blue Raincoat Theatre Company and distinguished qualifications from L’Ecole de Jaques Lecoq in Paris. He’s a terrific teacher of drama, screen and stage actor, improviser of comedy and all round talented fellow. His most recent incarnation, as Thaddeus M Whimsicleese, inHow To Wrestle A Polar Bear is another inspired performance for young and old alike.

Of course, I borrowed a child (my favourite child) for the show, as I needed the expert and impartial opinion to help me write this review. I suppose I should start with the voice of the target audience. My marvellous, eight year old companion, Mister Armando Cornelius, ladies and gentlemen:

“I really liked the bit where he met the polar bear and the snowfight and the bit about the monkeys throwing their pooh.”

So did I.

From the moment you enter the foyer area at The Factory, you are transported into a different world. A palpable sense of old-fashioned adventure and the beautiful attention to detail in the set design draw the audience instantly into a tale inspired by the classic works of Mervyn Peake. A tale of fantastical creatures, life or death battles, unlikely escapes and quirky survival tips (feeding cheese to sharks and using hungry vultures for a handy airlift, anyone?).

A tale of self-worth and self-actualisation, delivered with such a cunningly gentle hand, the youngsters in the audience don’t for a moment suspect they may be learning any kind of life lesson here…

A tale which starts with a rather tough little infant running away from home and ends with the poignant and powerful image of a huge mythical creature freezing in place on his throne, while a horde of delighted children throw handfuls of snow at their parents and guardians with magical abandon.

How To Wrestle A Polar Bear is a beautiful, considered piece of work, perfectly pitched to its audience of 5-14 year olds but also enthralling and engaging for all ages, particularly with a few wry and witty improvisation moments thrown in to keep the adults on their toes. Full audience participation keeps the attention of even the littlest member, and Bob/Thaddeus’s thoughtful interactions keep the crowd in the palm of his hand.

If this returns to the stage next Christmas, or if another such production should happen along in the meantime, this is the best date you could choose to kidnap your favourite little friend for. Armando and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, and from the wide eyes and huge grins on all the other faces we saw, so did everyone else.

Bravo Thaddeus M Whimsicleese. BRAVO!