Why you should see the V&A’s Winnie-the-Pooh exhibition

The show’s neatest trick is its appeal to both children and adults.

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Hum dum dum… Oh, the wind is lashing lustily/And the trees are thrashing thrustily…” A sing-song voice greets me as I enter the V&A’s exhibition “Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring a Classic”. To purists, the song, from a 1968 Disney adaptation, might not count as classic AA Milne material, but for someone like me, who grew up on both the books and the animations, it’s the instant nostalgia hit I was hoping for. As with other recent V&A exhibitions (“Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion”, “Botticelli Reimagined”) this one has an interest in legacy, and begins with the adaptations and merchandise inspired by the original stories, from lunch boxes to teddies used as props in the recent film Goodbye Christopher Robin. A screen even plays scenes from Vinni-Pukh, a Soviet-era cartoon.

We move from this collection of colourful ephemera to pictures of the real Christopher Robin with Pooh and the original sketches of the map of the Hundred Acre Wood. The show’s neatest trick is its appeal to both children and adults: there are interactive games such as “Make up a Monster” on the walls at child height, while draft sketches hang above, and the central space, which features a mock bridge and river, is half-exhibition, half-playground.

While kids play Poohsticks, adults can get more deeply acquainted with the original text and the playful interaction between words and pictures. EH Shepard’s illustrations were able to communicate more complex concepts such as sarcasm and irony to children by spelling out something only hinted at in the text. There’s just enough analysis to make you want to return to the stories with an adult’s eye, without spoiling their original magic. 

Anna Leszkiewicz is culture editor of the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 18 January 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Churchill and the hinge of history

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