Seussical the Musical, Immersion Theatre @ Southwark Playhouse

 

Directed by James Tobias

Choreography by Chris Wittaker | Musical direction by James Doughty 

Music & Book by Stephen Flaherty | Lyrics & Book by Lynn Ahrens

Co-conceived by Eric Idle

22 November – 29 December 2018

This stage adaptation of Dr Seuss’ work brings to life a host of loveable character with a smile, whilst lightly touching on some serious issues.

Scott Paige and the cast of Seussical The Musical, Southwark Playhouse - courtesy of Adam Trigg

Marc Pickering does a wonderful job as the Cat in the Hat (and a host of other kooky characters), leading a cast of kaleidoscopically colourful creatures. The cast of 12 burst with an energy that is barely contained by the stage, and frequently spills out into the audience.

The musical elements are particularly impressive, even if they do take a little from the more classic Seussical rhyme schemes. Harmonies are struck with casual ease, although at times lyrics were lost under the band. Nonetheless, I found my toes tapping along, and the title song has been playfully plaguing me ever since.

The cast of Seussical The Musical, Southwark Playhouse - courtesy of Adam Trigg_2

Amongst all the fun, there are serious themes that, I was surprised to find, seem to be even more relevant to the adult modern landscape than to the Jungle of Nool. In a mere 70 minutes, issues of judgement, otherness, bullying, unrequited love and even body image are dealt with and – get this – resolved with childish simplicity. I left wishing that everyone on Twitter had to affirm that “a person’s a person no matter how small” before being able to type. As a family show, it’s not only delightful entertainment but also, perhaps, an opportunity to open conversations about acceptance and self-belief.

Amongst a talented cast, special mentions must go to Scott Paige (Horton) and Amy Perry (Gertrude) for bringing sincerity to their roles and a bit of depth to the production. Where at times the whole-cast numbers were overwhelming,

Scott Paige and Amy Perry (Seussical The Musical, Southwark Playhouse) - courtesy of Adam Trigg

My main criticism of this family-friendly fun-fest is that it lacks it lacks some of the genuinely creative imagination that make Dr Seuss’ works so brilliant. Despite being about imagination, it played too close to imitation for me to be inspired by it. Perhaps a risk or two would give it a little more to remember it by for those of us who grew up on the original.

Putting that aside, this is a lovely holiday-period experience. Grab the closest child to you if you need an excuse, or head down with anyone who needs reminding that even Sour Kangaroos can be nice.

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REVIEW! How To Catch A Krampus, Sink the Pink @ Pleasance Theatre

Writer, Director, Designer: Ginger Johnson
Musical Direction: Sarah Bodalbhai
Produced by Glyn Fussell for Sink The Pink and Nic Connaughton for Pleasance
Featuring: Ginger Johnson, Lavinia Co-op, David Cumming, Mairi Houston, Mahatma Khandi, and Maxi More
13 Nov – 23 Dec 2018

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Ginger Johnson in How To Catch a Krampus. Images courtesy of Ali Wright

I was instantly drawn to this show when I read its title: the figure of the Krampus, a devilish Central European counterweight to Saint Nicholas, has always held a particular dark fascination to me. The image of a dark, cold, snowy land, inhabited by sinister figures and child-punishing monsters, forms the very antithesis to the jolly, magical, family-friendly wonderland which we in the West associate with Christmas. I was not disappointed by this production, which used exactly this creepy Gothic horror setting (kudos to sound and lighting designers, Alicia Jane Turner and Clancy Flynn) to tell a panto story that was both fabulously dark and silly – featuring history’s campest Krampus!

Ginger Johnson, a veteran London drag queen, wrote and stars in this story about a charlatan spirit medium who embarks on a quest to return a stolen child to his grieving and impoverished family. In the process, Ginger is forced to confront her own past and its associated demons – she may have lost her son to the Krampus, but she is the only person who can stop history from repeating itself. Along the way we meet a motley assortment of characters, encompassing a crew of highly comic Morris dancers, a coven of genuinely chilling demonic witches, an Italian opera diva and her questionable translator, an elderly prostitute with a colourful history, a Rocky Horror-esque German mad scientist, and many many more.

As you can probably imagine, many of these skits did not link up with each other in any sort of narrative sense, and at times this could be disorienting as your brain tried to fit together pieces drawn from different puzzles. However, all fit perfectly with theme of a deliciously dark and naughty Christmas panto, showcasing the performers’ skills at spoof and spook, dance and drama, slapstick and soprano. Musical highlights included:

  • 67-year-old Lavinia Co-op blending class and crass in a slowed-down parody of Rihanna’s S&M;
  • An all-cast a capella (I think?) and actually goosebump-raising rendition of MJ’s Thriller;
  • Dancing from Morris, Morris, Morris, Morris, Morris, and Susan;
  • A side-splittingly chaotic version of The Twelve Days of Christmas;
  • Houston sweetly singing Not While I’m Around from Sweeney Todd whilst attempting patricide;
  • Look, basically every other moment of the show…
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Lavinia Co-op and Mairi Houstin in How To Catch a Krampus. Images courtesy of Ali Wright

While each performer got their time in the spotlight, much of this show’s charm came from the chemistry between its characters. Mairi Houston as the token non-drag actor had a wonderful dynamic with Ginger Johnson, acting as a perfectly contrasting counterpart to the flamboyant larger-than-life queen. How To Catch A Krampus is bookended by comedic collaboration/confrontation between Ginger Johnson and David Cumming, whose relationship sparks with friction and hidden tensions – when they revealed the twist ending to the fable, the theatre erupted with shocked gasps.

A warning: this production is not for the faint-hearted, prudes, traditionalists, or children. Expect jump scares (the very first moment of the performance had me violently spilling my red wine over my neighbour’s yellow jacket, ooops), partial nudity, jokes about swords being semi-sexually inserted into various orifices, and all sorts of outrageous stunts. But a riot is rarely a safe event, and How To Catch A Krampus is certainly a riotously good time for the open-minded.

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Previous review: Cuckoo by Lisa Carroll @ Soho Theatre

The Distance You Have Come by Scott Alan @ The Cockpit

Book, Music, Lyrics, and Direction: Scott Alan
Arrangements, Orchestrations, and Musical Direction: Scott Morgan
Producers: Sevans Productions & Krystal Lee
Cast: Andy Coxon, Adrian Hansel, Emma Hatton, Jodie Jacobs, Dean John-Wilson, Alexia Khadime
Set and Costume Design: Simon Daw
16-28 October, 2018

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Alexia Khadime as Laura and Dean John-Wilson as Joe. Image courtesy of Darren Bell.

The Distance You Have Come is a song cycle by proficient and beloved songwriter Scott Alan, featuring a star-studded cast of talented West Enders. Running at an hour forty-five minutes plus interval, the piece follows the lives of six characters as they navigate love, heartbreak, inner demons, ambition, insecurity, parenthood, and the perils of modern dating. There is very little in the way of dialogue or real plot (which is why it is billed as a “song cycle” rather than a “musical”), and the characters usually inhabit the minimalistic central stage as a sort of unreal reality, a dreamscape or place of memories. Live musical scoring floats down from an elevated bandspace above the performance space, and the actors are miked such that the music and vocals swell throughout the entire theatre, enveloping the audience.

It must be said that the stars of its show are its music and, well, its stars. Each actor is offered and capitalises on the opportunity to shine in multiple solo pieces, as well as duets and ensemble pieces. All are possessed of a strong and beautiful voice, however my personal favourites in terms of vocals were Andy Coxon as Brian and Alexia Khadime as Laura, with performances so nuanced and exquisite that they made my heart vibrate in key. Dean John-Wilson demonstrates devastating emotional depth as Joe, a lost boy battling to overcome alcoholism, the loss of love, and the trauma of childhood abuse. His character’s story reaches its nadir with the heart-rending song “Quicksand”, his anguish and hopelessness accentuated by evocative lighting design (by Andrew Ellis) and creepy costuming (Simon Daw). Daw’s set design also complemented the production perfectly, covering the theatre-in-the-round stage space with the intricate veins of a battered leaf, balanced by a beautiful cascade of leafy branches interwoven with bare lightbulbs suspended from the high ceiling. The only items of set were a swing and a park bench (doubling as a sort of water trough), which were put to flexible use throughout both acts.

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Emma Hatton as Maisey. Set design by Simon Daw. Image courtesy of Darren Bell.

Unfortunately, despite the aural and visual feast provided by this production, there was very little substance to it in terms of content, and equally little variation in tone. Scott Alan is renowned as a songwriter whose works are staples in musical theatre audition rooms everywhere, however a show close to two hours long which consists mainly of generically emotional power ballads is quite exhausting and becomes monotonous at times. There are some respites, largely provided by Jodie Jacobs as fickle, lascivious, maybe-lesbian-maybe-bisexual Anna; Jacobs’ excellent comedic abilities perfectly accentuate Alan’s lighter pieces and even provide a welcome layer of irony to some of his more earnest ones. But we needed more comic pieces like these, and fewer of the heavier ones. I feel that the show could benefit from being condensed and streamlined – a number of the songs simply did not make sense in the context of their characters’ storylines, and felt like they had been shoehorned in on very thin pretexts.

Adrian Hansel and Andy Coxon are largely spared angsty material as sugar-sweat lovebird couple Samuel and Brian, and it is wonderful to see two gay characters given such a pain-free storyline, culminating in a healthy, happy, loving family. Indeed, the representation in The Distance You Have Come is refreshingly diverse, with straight characters numbering only two of six, fifty-fifty white/POC actors, and gender parity. However, it is a shame that the “sad lesbians” trope was perpetuated, as was the implication that self-realisation and happiness are only achievable through marriage and child-raising, and the portrayal of Anna’s sexuality flirted with the border between funny and problematic. Despite the diversity of orientations and races onstage, there was very little diversity of perspective or personality: all characters (with the possible exception of Jacobs’ Anna) seemed to speak with the voice of writer and director Scott Alan.

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Andy Coxon and Adrian Hansel as Brian and Samuel. Image courtesy of Darren Bell.

Overall, The Distance You Have Come was a treat for the ears and the eyes, boasting top-quality acting, design, music, and technical execution; where it fell down was in the writing of the book, and in pacing and tone. It functions well as a showcase of its individual actors’ talents, but does not quite have the coherency or substance to make a whole as great as the sum of its parts.

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Elephant and Castle, Tom Adams and Lillian Henley @ Camden People’s Theatre

9th – 20th October 2018

Presented by Tom Adams and Lillian Henley

Elephant and Castle is a haunting, experimental piece of gig-theatre presented by husband and wife Tom Adams and Lillian Henley exploring the science and romantic impact of Adam’s parasomnia – sleep talking/walking.

A mattress propped up at the back of the stage begins to shake before creeping forward towards the audience – we hear a recording of someone whimpering, crying out layered with sounds of electrocution. It’s unsettling, to say the least. But then the mattress flips down and Henley and Adams bounce onto the bed in match-clash paisley pyjamas, find us with their eyes, and begin to sing their story, regaling us with when they first met and their later struggles with Adam’s parasomnia.

Henley’s hauntingly beautiful voice heightens the domestic tragedy of the songs, indicative of the show’s off-beat, quirky humour. This is a show that is not afraid to sit in its authored awkwardness. Elephant and Castle is equally generous and odd – cocooned by a Lynchian atmosphere. Recordings made over 3 years sample the strangeness of Adam’s night time ramblings, and are played in the darkness between transitions.

Henley plays her own long-sufferance to the cheek of Adam’s parasomnia – luminous, still, her voice transcendent, both eerie and beautiful. Adam’s mischief offers an appealing counterpoint, and they have a distinct chemistry that makes the spirit of this work unique. It delves into some darker territory, questioning what parasomnia can reveal, the threat it offers, never losing its idiosyncratic charm.

I especially enjoyed the use of a hand-held projector, projecting what looked like go-pro sleepwalk footage onto the back of the again upturned bed. It was immersive, lulling me into the logic of a dream-like state. The show’s composition and design converged in a fully realised atmosphere. As I sat, trying to grasp at shapes in the figurative footage, slipping out of definition, I happily gave myself over to its flow.

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Thor And Loki, by Harry Blake @ Assembly Roxy

Directed by Eleanor Rhode
Created with House of Blakewell
Produced by Vicki Graham Productions with HighTide and Something For The Weekend
1 – 26 August 2018, 7:15pm at the Assembly Roxy Upstairs Theatre

Thor and Loki

Photo by Geraint Lewis

I went into this show knowing absolutely nothing about it other than what the silly/kitschy poster proclaimed – THOR + LOKI, A COMEDY MUSICAL – and it is only now, as I begin the necessary research to write this glowing review, that this ridiculously, gloriously camp creation boasted the same director as Boudica (on last year at the Globe) and the same producer as today’s earlier show The Song of LunchHats off to Eleanor Rhode and SFTW respectively as I loved both these more “serious” productions of theirs, however the figurative cake was well and truly taken by this ridiculously, unapologetically silly comedy musical.

Thor and Loki, growing up amongst gods and giants respectively, have always known that they don’t fit in with the expectations of what they should be. Thor writes poetry and isn’t outdoorsy, and pacifist Loki would rather have a vegan picnic in the park than join the giants’ army. Neither is particularly interested in the businesses of heroism or havoc. However, when both are reluctantly press-ganged by destiny to fight in the great war of Ragnarok, they must choose between being the people they are, or who they are told they must be…

Photo by Geraint Lewis

Honestly there’s not much I can say about this show except that it is a giant-sized amount of fun with a warm heart and a hilarious, talented cast (which, despite singing a number about not having to use a talent just because you have it, manage to shoehorn an amazing number of talents into the show, often on little to no pretext – tap-dancing trolls??). Alice Keedwell is magnetic as Loki, in a role reminiscent of (but more fun than) Elphaba in Wicked, and with a similarly soaring soprano. Bob Harm’s Odin is a commanding presence with a strong old rocker vibe, and while Harry Blake’s wet blanket Thor underwhelmed me at first, his journey throughout the piece changed my mind and by the end I was thoroughly enjoying his whole schtick. However, the stage-stealer of this show was Laurie Jamieson as the giants’ scheming, horse-riding general (and assorted other bit roles) – side-splittingly funny, with just enough of a touch of real human warmth to have me invested in his fate (and I was not disappointed!).

Did Thor + Loki have a huge budget to spend on slick sets and fancy costumes? No! Were the political references and moral themes a little heavy-handed? Yes! Did they play hard and fast with Norse mythology to the point of unrecognisability? Definitely! But was this the hardest I’ve laughed at the Fringe, and the most uplifted I’ve felt by any theatre in a long time? Well, let’s just say:

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Photo by Geraint Lewis

GUY, Leoe&Hyde @ The Bunker

Music, Production by Stephen Hyde

Book, Lyrics by Leoe Mercer

Directed by Sam Ward

16 June – 7 July

GUY is a fun, fresh musical about friendship, love and Grindr. The music was slick, catchy computer pop – think SOPHIE and Sam Smith – and the lyrics were packed with word play and nerd references. It’s a minimalist show, with four actors, an almost empty set and a pre-recorded score but it does so much with this. Each actor displayed a polished, engaging performance – singing, dancing, deploying excellent comedic timing and dramatic chops. I couldn’t identify a stand out performer, since all four were strong talents who were a joy to watch.

It speaks to the the paucity of media by and for queer people, but it was relieving to see a story with no straight people in it. It’s not a story about homophobia or coming out or finding your identity, or even AIDS – all worthy stories to be sure, but it’s nice to see what’s essentially a gay rom-com. Which is not to say the story takes place in a queer utopia – Grindr, the story’s framing device, is famous for distilling racism, sexism and body dismorphia into the callous dismissal: “No fats, no femmes, no asians”. All these issues are identified and addressed in the show – there are shades of Cyrano De Bergerac in that so many characters feel they have to hide themselves from those they love due to perceived prejudice.

The show has the breezy positivity you want from a musical about falling in love, and the exceptional cast keep you engaged throughout an hour and a half run with very little lag. I recommend this show.

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Into the Woods @ The Cockpit

All Star Productions and Trilby Productions
Written by Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Tim McArthur
23 May – 24 June 2018

For those who don’t know it, Stephen Sondheim’s classic musical is a crossover fairytale saga which is more Grimm than Disney, following an ensemble cast including Rapunzel, Cinderella, Jack (of beanstalk fame), Little Red Riding Hood, and a baker and his wife who are determined to lift a witch’s curse and have a child. All these characters’ quests take them into the woods, where they cross paths and purposes, and by the end of the first act, all the storylines are resolved more or less as you’d expect. But the second act takes us beyond Happily Ever After and into somewhere darker…

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Ensemble (photo credit: David Ovenden)

This was the third or fourth production I’ve seen of Into the Woods, and right from the moment my eyes adjusted to the initial gloom of the stage space, I saw that this one would be different. Most productions use a normal proscenium arch stage, with classic panto-style fairytale backdrop, and old-timey Disney-esque costumes. Not so with this production. The Cockpit stage is theatre in the round, with the audience seated in ascending rows on four sides (the front row shares the floor with the characters, which feels very immersive but which I wouldn’t necessarily recommend, as I was in constant fear of tripping the actors up, and got a bit of a strained neck from the awkward viewing angle also. I moved back a row at interval). The floor is covered in wood chip – I was constantly in awe of the Cinderella-story ladies’ abilities to walk and dance over such tricky terrain in towering heels – and the set pieces are constructed from rough wooden scaffolding (into the wood? hehe).

The costumes, however, are the biggest change, taking the fairytale characters and tropes and plonking them right into the 21st century. Apparently inspiration was taken from a number of British reality TV shows, but as an ignorant recent immigrant, I’ve never watched a minute of TOWIE or Made in Chelsea or any of the others; as such, a lot of the cultural references were lost on me. However, the basic archetypes were quite easy to recognise: the chavvy teenaged mum (Glaswegian accent as subtle as her hot pink thong), the husband-hunting Real Wives of Stepfamily, the bag lady witch, the ‘yahing’ public schoolboys, etc etc. I was quite surprised at how well a lot of these modernisations worked, and the extra layer of meaning they added to certain characterisations, especially Jack’s and his mother’s – but in other cases, such as drug-snorting Rapunzel, it felt at times gimmicky and inconsistent instead. In any case, the modernisation certainly didn’t take anything away from the performance, and sometimes added to it, so while it didn’t blow me away, overall it paid off.

In some ways, however, this production of Into the Woods was similar to others, most notably the way in which it begins to drag along in the second act. The actors seemed to feel this too, as after a shining first act, they seemed to suffer a marked slump in energy and chemistry for the second; this is perhaps to be expected for the first Saturday in a month-long run, but unfortunate nonetheless. Sound issues cropped now and then, and when the Giantess’ voice made its debut, un-miked, I thought at first that this was another technical problem – however, as it persisted throughout the act, I realised that this must have been a deliberate choice, perhaps trying for the illusion of distance and therefore height? Unfortunately, it only made her sound confusingly small. As for the other characters, their caricature-like acting which had been employed to great effect in the first act didn’t manage to harness the pathos and emotion of the second act, so that the string of tragedies and heartbreak felt somewhat by-the-numbers and flat.

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Michele Moran as the Witch (photo credit: David Ovenden)

Criticism aside, there was a lot to love about this production as well. Overall, the production qualities were extremely high, including the live band, the sound and visual effects, and the contrasting aesthetics of the heightened realism costuming, minimalistic symbolic props, and Joana Dias’ excellent set design. This last was beautiful in its rough simplicity, a standout moment being when the Witch climbed a ladder which lit up in fairy(tale) lights in time with her steps and the music. Speaking of Michele Moran’s Witch, she was excellent, both in her shuffling creepy form and glamorous haughty reincarnation. Her Irish accent tied in well with her Celtic-esque costume design (gotta love a good torc), and her swan song hit all the right notes including unhinged, vulnerable, desperate, reckless, and downright scary. The standout performance, however, was from Abigail Carter-Simpson’s Cinderella, with her soaring voice, beat-perfect comedic acting, and heights and depths of emotion.

The rest of the cast had a mix of strengths and weaknesses: Jack’s mother was at times a little one-note, but that note was wonderfully bolshy; the Princes hadn’t the strongest voices but didn’t need them to be hilarious; the Baker’s Wife tended to misjudge her comic timing but got us deeply invested in her through pure likability; Red and Jack were endearing but perhaps not entirely convincing children; Rapunzel and her gorgeous voice were somewhat short-changed by the unconvincing character arc (I loved her final moments sitting cross-legged on stage with a beautifully wistful smile); the Narrator suffered in the modernisation of the play, losing his point of difference, but was still very compelling with his wide-eyed wonder and earnest investment; supporting characters Steward, Stepmother, Stepsisters, Grandmother, and Old Man were all strong, and as a result felt somewhat underutilised. Director Tim McArthur was thoroughly eclipsed in his role as the Baker by the rest of his cast, however we have him to thank for the production’s vision and, I gather, its outstanding choreography.

Overall, this production of Into the Woods is fresh and fun, particularly in the crackling first act. The second failed to pack as much oomph, but I do suspect I just caught them on a bad night. If you are a fan of Sondheim, fairytales, or just musical theatre in general, I would encourage you to check this production out before its run ends.

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Free Solo @ The Drayton Arms Theatre

17 April – 3 May, 2018

by Jack Godfrey & Celine Snippe
Produced by Alice Greening

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Free Solo is a fantastic new musical written by Jack Godfrey and Celine Snippe, directed by Nick Leos and musically directed by Flora Leo. It follows the story of the Robinson Family in the lead up to John Robinson’s daredevil Free Solo Rick climb. Based on the true story we watch as, eleven years on, Robinson’s daughter Hazel reflects on the events that led up to her father’s climb.

Set to a folk-rock score, this new musical is sensitive, with fantastic movement and really human moments. Cecily Redmann was delightful as Hazel Robinson. Her voice was strong, and she safely navigated the changes between young and old Hazel. Simone Leonardi was an absolute stand out as the infamous John Robinson. His voice beautifully conveyed the sensitivity behind the music and gave a fantastic, human approach to the character.

Despite a few technical hitches, this musical was a thoroughly enjoyable watch, highlighting the importance of family and raising questions about responsibility and identity.

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The Lost Boy Peter Pan, Action to the Word @ The Pleasance Theatre

Based on the novel by J.M. Barrie
Adapted and directed by Alexandra Spencer-Jones
Presented by Action to the Word in association with Glynis Henderson Productions.

The Lost Boy Peter Pan, courtesy The Other Richard (6)

A sparkling, musical, and surprisingly emotional romp into the classic tale of the boy who refuses to grow up, his group of young runaways, and his rivalry with a certain dastardly pirate.

This review has been written with the insightful help of Sebastian (aged 7), and Daniel (age 10). Daniel went under the pseudonym of Ruben in last week’s Once Upon A Snowflake review, but has been thinking about it and said he wanted to upgrade his name again. Sebastian is fine with his own name, but did get quite excited about the prospect of being called Darth Vader.

 

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The co-writers of this review; Daniel (10) & Sebastian (7)

It was a joy to watch the show with the boys. Their eyes were glued to the stage, their smiles lingered on their faces for much of the play.

“The acting is very clear”, says Sebastian almost as soon as the lights came up in intermission. “Their communication is good”.

The story is told often through verse, and often in song borrowing and covering pop and rock songs throughout, re-purposing well known tunes to become vehicles for the story.

“I liked that they could play so many different instruments at once”, say Daniel, referring to the effortless talent displayed by the cast, each member of whom seemed to faultlessly play at least four instruments during the performance.

The cast is as equally talented dramatically as they are musically. “They were really good and showed lots of character”, said Daniel.

“Ha! Captain Hook was funny, yaaah! Rahr! Yaahhh!” says Sebastian, drifting into what I’m guessing was a flashback of the impressive fight sequences.

“I felt like crying, and then sometimes I felt like laughing”, grins Daniel, who was particularly moved by Wendy (Hannah Haines).

The humour of the piece was a definite crowd-pleaser with the boys.

“I liked the mermaid bits”, says Daniel referring to one particularly memorable gag, “but, fish being evil? What’s with that?!”

“Fish is always evil!”, declares Sebastian helpfully, before rasping “fish, fish, fish, fish. Fish is evil! I’ll lurk in the shadows” and stalking off.

“I liked the mermaid bits cause it had references to the S – E – X”, says Daniel conspiratorially once his brother had disappeared to menace a nearby bus stop.

More soberly he adds, “I liked the appearances too. The sets and the costumes.”

“Yeah, set was good!” says Sebastian, re-joining us.

It’s very playful show, and both the cast and the design elements manage to imbue the performance with excitement, like being at your first sleep-over and sneaking into the kitchen to steal chocolates.

It’s an artful retelling, and from the adult point of view I really admired how Alexandra Spencer-Jones and company has brought out the best of what’s made the Barrie classic so enduring. It’s a rollicking adventure, but at its heart it remains a nuanced and emotional coming-of-age tale. Hook is no pantomime villain, but a lonely old man who is as lost as Peter, while Pan is far from being a textbook hero either. He is arrogant and often cruel as only children can be. The show beautifully brings to stage the nostalgia of childhood and our fears of growing up. It was a ton of fun, but it also surprised me by how much it moved me.

As with all my family show reviews, I leave it to the boys to rate the show. “What would you give it out of five?” I ask.

“Five out of five!” says Sebastian immediately.

It took a little longer for Daniel to make his decision. He spent a while weighing up the options in his head. He contemplated it stoically.

Then he confidently announced the show to be “sixteen out of five”.

A heartily recommended family adventure.

 

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Once Upon a Snowflake, Paper Balloon @ Chelsea Theatre

30 November – 22 December 2017

Directed by Maria Litvinova
Composed/lyrics by Darren Clark
Devised by Paper Balloon

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Photo credit to Paper Balloon

 

In this alternative family Christmas show, a little girl called Liza has gone missing after eencountering a Winter Sprite, an impish elf-like creature. We join some ‘Spriteologists’ in an adventure to untangle the mystery of her disappearance and find out more about the mischievous fairies.

 

I don’t exactly fit into the usual demographic for children’s theatre, and didn’t particularly feel qualified to write this review. Fortunately I know some experts, and this review has been written with the insightful help of Sebastian (aged 7), and Ruben (age 10), who insisted on a pseudonym to retain his professional detachment. Which was adorable.

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The co-writers of this review; Sebastian (7) & Ruben (10)

 

The play is a creative and engaging blend of music, puppetry, storytelling and performance. It’s been extraordinarily designed and put together, with the music providing a wonderful and quirky tone to the performance. The impressively talented Joseph Hardy, who performs as one of the Spriteologists, plays about 5 different instruments, and with a loop-pedal scores the entire performance. Joining him were Alex Kanefsky (also the artistic director of Paper Balloons) and Dorie Kinnear, who guide us through the performance with energy and theatricality.

“The actors made it very playful,” says Ruben knowledgeably. “I liked it when they made it up on the spot,” he adds, referring to one song where the cast create an improvised puppet show and song using items provided by the audience.

“My favourite thing was the puppets in the background,” Sebastian says, eliciting violent head-nodding agreement from Ruben. The shadow puppetry throughout the show was masterful. One moment in particular, when the Spriteologists explore the inside of Liza’s head, was particularly incredible to watch. During that moment, Sebastian leaned over to me wide-eyed and in an awed whisper said, “She’s dreaming”.

I had the great pleasure of watching his imaginative landscape expand in that moment, and I’m not sure a piece of children’s theatre can do better than that.

Their top five words to describe the show were “imaginative, original, intriguing, exciting, and funny”, and I’m not sure I can do better than those either.

It’s a clever and enjoyable show, and if our experience was anything to go by, definitely one worth dragging the adults to.

 

 

The boys unanimously awarded the show:

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Tickets