Sometimes when I review shows, I like to get straight to the point and tell you what the show was actually like. More often though, I like to give a bit of context to our day…yknow, it’s the personal touch that I know you all love, especially when my own personal touch is so very chaotic. Let me tell you how I came to be at the theatre with a ukulele and a lasagne.
The ukulele is straightforward…I led worship at church this morning and, at the request of a three-year-old, played a two-chord song that was tailor-made for introducing the ukulele as a worship instrument. What I didn’t quite consider is that we were going to the theatre afterwards and if Nathan was taking my guitar home (because no, I didn’t do the entire set on uke) then I couldn’t really ask him to carry that as well. So it was coming with. I’m sure I struck fear in the audience’s hearts when I rocked up with it, just in case I decided to join in with the show and maybe even reprise this morning’s preschool hit. But I behaved myself perfectly. 7
The lasagne is also straightforward, in a way. Eva and I had gone for a post-church lunch in one of our regular haunts but for some reason, their normal system wasn’t working and the service was a little chaotic. They’re normally so efficient but I suspect someone was off work and so the rest of the staff were struggling to cope. All of which meant that, while Eva got her lunch at 1:40 (toast, chips and halloumi – another classic Eva recipe), mine was still not there at 1:50. We were cutting it fine for a 2pm show but the cafe agreed to box everything up, including Eva’s half-eaten lunch and my untouched lasagne and we ran for a 476, with the lunch clutched in hand. All was almost lost once again when Eva got distracted by a large white dog on Cross Street (“But it’s yawning”). Somehow tho, we made it just about on time and I just had to hang on to the bag of lasagne, some half finished drinks and a ukulele for the duration of the show.
The lasagne was awesome when I did get round to eating it, which was about 4pm. Totally worth waiting for.
So now I’ve set the scene, we can relax a little and actually talk about the show. It’s based on a short Julia Donaldson book, which I don’t think we’ve read before so I wasn’t familiar with the source material. But having virtually flicked through it on YouTube, I can say that the show seems to have been very faithful to the book and incorporates a lot of the original text while also enhancing it with songs and – of course – puppetry.
Eva was wowed by the lights before the show even started. They changed colour to reflect the scene – blue for the ocean scenes and multicoloured for the circus. When I asked her afterwards, she said the blue-purple ones were just “sooo beautiful”. It might be a minor detail but the kind of detail kids pick up on.
There were three human performers on stage – they’re listed in the programme as Lizzie Wort/Ruth Calkin, Gilbert Taylor and Hedi Goldsmith. I believe we saw Ruth Calkin perform today but I’m happy to be corrected. All three acted, sang and operated the puppets with Gilbert Taylor taking the role of the main human character – the despicable Sam Sly, owner of the circus. He did some extraordinarily quick changes between “Sam” and his puppeteer persona and the costume was a good cue for us to know when to clap him and when to boo and hiss. Because if you haven’t read the book, here’s a spoiler – the singing mermaid joins the circus and life there is not as promised. Like Ariel, she’d failed to read the small print before signing a contract.
Although the circus conditions are cruel for a creature of the sea, there are plenty of joyful things that happen in this show. Characters who only get one line in the text are fleshed out here – such as “the man who swallowed fire” who performs his trick for us under the stage “The Human Volcano”.
It’s Annie the Acrobat who has the most dramatic moment though, as she pauses on the high wire and asks for silence from the children of the audience. Remarkably, that was almost achieved – pretty much every kid in the room held their breath as she daringly stepped along the wire. Eva wasn’t completely silent but just whispered “Gosh” in my ear as Annie performed her stunts. It’s no mean feat to captivate the 3-8-year-old crowd but the performers somehow managed it.
You won’t be surprised to learn that Eva also loved the circus dogs. I thought she might get a bit distressed when one of them was carried off by a balloon but she seemed to take it in her stride.
Plot-wise, the show is fairly simple but each section – the sea, the circus and back to the sea – is rounded out with songs in lovely 3-part harmony and a bit of bantering with the audience as Sam Sly attempts to count his money. There’s also a fight with a seagull, which is not to be missed.
Overall, a joyous and charming show which had a few darker moments but if a child as sensitive as Eva can cope, I’m sure all your littlies will be fine. It was less interactive than “Handa’s Surprise” but far more complex in terms of puppetry and production. They’re both very enjoyable shows, but this one will hold the attention of slightly older children as well as toddlers. The performers were as seamless as you’d expect from Little Angel – they worked so well with the puppets that you forget there are humans there at all after a while – and, as I mentioned earlier, the songs are nicely harmonised and beautifully sung. After our chaotic start, it was a fun Sunday afternoon out. It’s running till 24th April so get along to see it while you can.
For tickets and more info, click here
Disclaimer: I received free tickets in exchange for a review. All opinions remain honest and my own