FROM caterpillar to butterfly via chrysalis transformation with a hint of Christmas rebirth, could hardly be a better choice for that rare thing of a theatre opening on the eve of the festive season.

Theatre Hullabaloo’s beautiful venue takes flight after turning a Darlington performance exodus, with the closure of its Arts Centre base, into a world class breakthrough for children’s theatre.

Artistic producer Miranda Thain’s clever decision to revisit the company’s production brought Bear (Micky Cochrane) to life as a curmudgeon who delights small onlookers by threatening to chase them away with a broom. His Heath Robinson-style home – which offers the truth about where Bears go to the loo in the woods and has little ones whispering “I wish we had a home like this” – attracts a caterpillar who switches between puppet appearance and amusing adult-size antics by Simon Carroll-Jones.

The friendship of mammal and insect is delightfully developed from Gordon Poad’s original story by director Dani Parr and stage manager Alice Longson. Dominie Hooper, dressed as Owl, adds appealing musical accompaniment.

“He’s never going to fly,” says one of my trio of eight and under fellow critics as Bear desperately tries to invent a flying machine to match the development of his best friend. Butterfly returning at Christmas to complete his cycle of life has several youngsters scurrying for cuddles at this tinge of sadness, but the final twist has everyone bouncing out of the Hippodrome’s charming, younger and smaller neighbour.

Opening the venue officially, Thain paid tribute to chair of the TH board Sharon Paterson and executive director Laura Case for ensuring that generations of children and grandchildren now have a place “where the magic happens”. Abracadabra to that.

  • Bear & Butterfly runs until December 31. Box Office: 01325-405405 or

Viv Hardwick