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A Beary Happy Birthday - Sooty at 75

The Sooty Show 75th Birthday Spectacular Poster

The Sooty Show – 75th Birthday Spectacular! - The Little Theatre, Leicester, 4 November 2023

Review by David Court

History is dotted with famous bears – from Bungle to Rupert to Paddington to Yogi (some notable for sharing the middle name ‘the’, many for sharing the surname ‘bear’), television is no stranger to the eminent Ursine. There’s one familiar to UK audiences of all ages though – the whispering Warlock known as Sooty. Bear Grylls (ironically not an actual bear) might have the stamina and constitution, but it’s dwarfed by the staying power of this tiny yellow black-eared celebrity.

(Some readers may be uncomfortable with me designating the tiny yellow bear with the term ‘Warlock’, but he’s an esteemed magician who seemingly hasn’t aged in decades, so the cap would indeed seem to fit.)

Originally appearing on our screens in 1955 with creator Harry Corbett, but first appearing on stage as far back as 1948, the silent sorcerer has been delighting children forever. Harry’s son Matthew Corbett would go on to take the mantle of Sooty’s handler, leaving the ‘Rainbow’ trio of Rod, Jane, and Freddy in 1976. Matthew retired in 1998 but handed responsibility for Sooty and his mischievous menagerie to magician Richard Cadell – and it’s the groups’ current custodian Richard who’s touring with the current 75th birthday spectacular.

Despite Sooty having his name on the poster (and probably, knowing his celebrity stature, the best dressing room and demanding showbiz rider), it’s his squeaky grey dog friend that we’re here to see. In all honesty, going into the show, I always considered Sooty and Soo a little too prim and proper for my tastes – Sooty whispers excessively (never a good trait) and Soo tends towards the bossy tell-tale end of the personality spectrum.

Some famous bears, yesterday.

No, it’s Sweep who the kids (and me) want to see – that mayhem-motivated monochrome agent of chaos.

The performance – the second of the day – was sold out, the audience a varied mix of parents with their kids and adults who clearly had fond memories of the little bear from their childhood. The excitement in the room is palpable as the packed audience await curtain up, a selection of wide-eyed kids fueled by syrupy coke from the bar or sugary orange squash looking like they’re on the verge of wrecking the place if their diminutive heroes don’t appear soon. As the lights dim a small child several rows in front screams “It’s about to start!” in a voice so emotional it’s clear they’re about to pass out through sheer excitement. Parents smile at the outburst, but – in all honesty – the adults are just as thrilled as the kids, just more reserved about it.

The show itself takes the form of the 75th birthday party for the age-resistant bear, who looks surprisingly well for his advanced years – presumably with his dark magic extending to the possession of some Dorian Gray-style portrait of an ancient, grizzled grizzly in his attic.

Butch the dog is on DJ duties, with Sweep, despite his poor track record with anything practical, in charge of sorting out decorations (sausages, unsurprisingly, may be involved). Ramsbottom the snake (a new one on me) is in charge of both deliveries and increasingly awful Knock Knock jokes, and Soo is looking after the cake.

Bear (!) with me here, but - cynicism aside, the show was a delightful eighty minutes of fun. Richard Cadell is a consummate entertainer, with just the right level of slapstick to have the kids shrieking with laughter and delivering just enough knowing gags for the adults. Mr. Tumble’s ears must have been burning, I tell you.

Could it be?! - Photograph by Tara Court

Richard is aided by Michael Jordan. Not the basketball player – which comes as somewhat of a relief, as he’d dwarf the stars - but an incredibly talented performer from Blackpool Tower Circus. After all, what kids' party is complete without a magician? There’s juggling and plate-spinning, and the afternoon absolutely flies by. Kids are invited on stage to help – who bring their own chaotic levels of unpredictability – and it’s all just so much bloomin’ fun.

Amongst the genuinely hilarious anarchy – from balloon-blowing gone horribly awry, to wayward fart noises from the DJ, through to rogue water pistols put through their paces – there’s a touching moment where Leicester-born Cadell reveals his own personal link to this theatre, and it’s a timely reminder of the value and importance of legacy. Sooty is more than just the oft-replaced puppet found by Harry Corbett in a joke shop all those years ago – he’s a living testament to a style of entertainment that may seem to be vanishing, but, from the unrestrained reactions of the enraptured kids in the audience, is very much in rude health.

Overall, it’s one of the most entertaining pieces of theatre I’ve seen in the longest time. I laughed so much I thought I’d cry and felt like a little kid again. The show is proof that Sooty is indeed a magician, but not in the way you’d expect.

Bye bye, everybody, bye bye.

Somebody once said 'Never meet your heroes'. They were wrong - Photograph by Tara Court

For more information on the 75th Birthday Spectacular, click here. For information regarding The Little Theatre In Leicester, click here.


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