Category Archives: Family & children’s shows

Pinocchio

(reviewed at the Jerwood DanceHouse, Ipswich on 14 December)

The Jasmin Vardimon Company has taken up a pre-Christmas residency at the DanceHouse for the last leg of its autumn tour. Any dance drama which can hold the attention of a schools audience for a full 90 minutes without an interval has discovered a magic formula.

In Vardimon’s case this is a clever mix of minimal spoken narration, sthletic dance movements, circus skills and a subtle dose of the surreal in the staging. Disney this is not. Rather it takes the original 19th century Italian story of the puppet-carver who, Frankenstein-like, makes a humanoid marionette that then leads a life of its owen.

We see the making process in shadow-play, then a fairy gives the gift of a heart (and so life), but Pinocchio has to learn that existence has responsibilities as well as adventure. We meet also the predatory Cat and Fox, a bunch of playground bullies who have perfected the art of exclusion from their group and a ringmaster whose smile and gentle encouragements quickly turn vicious, even sadistic.

All this is achieved with the aid of designers Guy Bar-Amotz, Chajine Yavroyan, Abigail Hammond and Jesse Collett in a seamless collaboration with Vardimon. Performers are Maria Doulgeri, Emma Farnell-Watson, Estéban Lecoq, David Lloyd, Aoi Nakamura, Uros Petronijevic, Stefania Sotiropoulou and Alexandros Stavropoulos.

The soundscape is an ecletic one, balancing the visual elements – it’s not just the individual performers and set pieces who take to the air from time to time. The donkey masks are noteworthy, as are the linked bare forearms for Pinocchio’s lying nose and the skein of apparently cut-out dolls, such as one sees in illustrations of Victorian mantelpiece Christmas decorations.

Pinocchio runs at the Jerwood DanceHouse, Ipswich until 18 December. Check the theatre’s website (danceeast.co.uk) for performance times.

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Filed under Ballet & dance, Family & children's shows, Reviews 2016

3 Little Pigs

(reviewed at the New Wolsey Theatre Studio, Ipswich on 10 December)

When children are a little too young to enjoy a full-length pantomime and might even, if this is a first encounter with live theatre, find the whole ambiance just a bit scary – what’s the alternative? There’s usually not a great deal, but the Stuff and Nonsense/Niki McCreeton version of the tale of the three little pigs and how they outwit a very hungry wolf will certainly go a considerable way to filling the gap.

The setting uses autumnal colour for the not-quite realistic trees and bushes which suggest the forest where the action happens. Katie Underhay and Peter Morton are the performers, switching so easily from onstage characterisations (Morton has great fun as the red-spectaclrd wolf) to puppet manipulation; this means that the young audience accepts the change-overs as perfectly natural.

Audience participation – hiding from the wolf and chanting the familiar repetitative rhymes with appropriate actions – fits in smoothly. This is an imagination-stretching show and I suspect that it may set the next generation of young theatre-goers in the right direction.

3 Little Pigs runs at the New Wolsey Studio Theatre, Ipswich until 3 January. Check the theatre website (wolseytheatre.co.uk or aloadofstuffandnonsense.co.uk) for performance times.

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Filed under Family & children's shows, Reviews 2016

Wind in the Willows

(reviewed at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester on 6 August)

This new Made in Colchester production by Matthew Cullum uses the Willis Hall stage adaptation of the Kenneth Grahame children’s stories with a new score and lyrics by Rebecca Applin, the Mercury’s resident composer. The cast play the different brass, string and percussion instruments in actor-musician mode.

It’s imaginatively designed in a non-naturalistic fashion by Katie Sykes; the minor animal characters have furry vaguely rabbit-like headpieces but Ratty, Mole and Badger wear, as it were, lay dress. So Sam Pay’s Mole is kitted our in a boiler-suit, Pete Ashmore’s Water-rat has appropriate river edge-wading gear and Kate Adams’ truculent Badger has a properly old-fashioned schoolmarm look.

Dale Superville’s posturing and flamboyant Toad bucks this trend, nattily attired in cutaway coat. Superville is a gifted mime as well as an audience favourite, cascading onto the stage at his first entrance in a positive tsunami of personality. His web-suggestive fingers alone make Badger’s withering put-down description of him as a “backsliding amphibian” really strike home. It’s a joyous performance which appeals to the would-be maverick in most of us, whatever our age group.

Toad’s great rival is the Wild Wooder, to whom Christopher Hogben allows a fine sense of untrammelled malevolence (weasels don’t feature in this version). There are chases, entrances and exits through the auditorium, but these are carefully spaced and the children who join the cast on-stage at the end are greeted in character and each allowed a dance routine of their choice.

It’s overall a magical introduction to theatre and one which really exercises a young imagination to see the natural world in several dimensions. Akin in many ways to our own, with hierarchies and territories. But it remains a wild place, somewhere apart. Things are done very differently there.

Wind in the Willows runs at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester (early evening) until 21 August. There are no Friday or Monday performances but matinées on 11, 13, 14, 18,20 and 21 August.

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Filed under Family & children's shows, Reviews 2016