London’s County Hall to host immersive Paddington Bear theatre show

The world of Michael Bond’s irrepressible, marmalade-loving bear Paddington is to be re-created for an immersive theatre experience at London’s County Hall.

Audiences will be invited to explore the environs of 32 Windsor Gardens, where Paddington settles with the Brown family after arriving from Peru, including an array of familiar settings from Bond’s books. Opening later this year, The Paddington Bear Experience will unfold across a space of 26,000 sq ft at the building, a former local government headquarters, on the Thames. The production is designed by Immersive Octopus, the creative collective behind Peaky Blinders: The Rise, which runs in London until May and brings to life the violent world of the gangster TV series.

The beloved, accident-prone Paddington – famous for his blue duffel coat and battered red hat, often concealing a sticky sandwich – will star in a considerably more family-friendly affair. Designer Rebecca Brower, who has been working on the Path Entertainment Group’s show for six months, said its multi-sensory, interactive mix of games, live performance and video content “works for all ages” – from young cubs to great aunts.

Written by Katie Lyons, the experience has a narrative built around helping the Brown family prepare for a special occasion. “We don’t want to give too much away,” said Brower, adding that the appearance of Paddington himself will be part of the surprise. “I can say that Paddington is present but I can’t say yet how he will be present,” she said with a laugh.

Fans of the Paddington books and cartoons will find all sorts of “hidden nods” to those worlds around the experience but Brower said that the aesthetic is mostly inspired by the two live-action films, in which Ben Whishaw voiced a CGI Paddington, released in 2014 and 2017. “I read the books as a kid,” said Brower. “When the films came out, I really fell in love even more with the character.” She visited some of the London locations used in the films and aims to achieve a realistic design while presenting the capital with a similar “sort of magic that they brought into quite a grey city”.

Immersive Octopus’s previous productions include Doctor Who: Time Fracture, which opened in 2021. Brower created those designs during the Covid-19 pandemic, which required endless adjustments for different levels of social restrictions. After Covid rules were lifted, Peaky Blinders: The Rise was a way to “reach out to audiences who had been longing to come together and have a party”.

Immersive theatre is currently booming, with the Bridge’s production of the musical Guys and Dolls letting theatregoers intermingle with the actors and even dance with them for the show’s finale. Post-pandemic, many audiences crave “more than just sitting and watching a show” said Brower, who is designing interactive rooms where you can “touch everything, open drawers and cupboards, and climb into places and do stuff”. With themed food promised as part of the entertainment, that could well include enjoying your own marmalade sandwich.

The County Hall production of Agatha Christie’s courtroom thriller Witness for the Prosecution will continue to run alongside The Paddington Bear Experience.