Writer: Dougal Irvine from the book by Eric Idle
Director: Hamish Glen
Reviewer: Nicole Evans
There is not many a child who won’t be familiar with Edward Lear’s charmingly nonsensical poem The Owl and The Pussycat and the echoes of those reciting it in the foyer of The Belgrade Theatre this evening is testament to that. Those familiar with Eric Idle’s story book adaption, The Quite Remarkable Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat, are undoubtedly rarer but it is just that that Dougal Irvine has chosen to musically adapt for the stage and is presented on the B2 stage for Coventry children to enjoy.
Beginning with the cast appearing in the rows of the auditorium with instruments talking to excited children and involving them in some of the silliness, the five make their way to the unchanging stage and go on to start reciting the well-loved poem – pausing throughout to point out just how ridiculous a notion the story is. Why would an owl marry a cat? What on earth is a bong tree anyway? Wouldn’t wrapping honey in a five pound note just get way too sticky?
Although the play does stay true to the original adaptation, much of the content is lost on its target audience, with the delivery of the already overcomplicated word-play being at such a speed that the six-year-olds watching don’t stand a chance of understanding the humour. The majority of the youngsters in attendance does remain interested, although this is more of a nod to the actors than to the cleverness of the production itself. Idle’s version is certainly nonsensical and it would have been difficult to move completely away from this, however, simplifying some of the language used and slowing the pace of some of the garble to make it more relevant to younger minds seems like an obvious path that wasn’t followed.
The faults definitely lie with the direction rather than the actors who all work together superbly to keep up their enthusiasm and work the nonsense into something that at least keeps everyone’s’ attention right through to the end. From encouraging a school-style sing-along at the start to allowing a young girl to fill the stage with glitter with one blow, they don’t fail to get each child invested in their characters and ensure the performance is one they will enjoy – even if they can’t tell you why afterwards.
Sally Frith purrfects her feline characteristics to make for a convincing Pussycat, slickly prowling around the stage in cat-like fashion in a black velvet costume and top-hat and her interactions with Danny Lane as owl can’t fail to charm. Lane himself, dressed in a feather-adorned tracksuit and bird-like mask, is a strong lead and his shy and respectful mannerisms are well suited to the elegant fowl he is portraying. Lizzie Woffard’s various characters don’t even need a mention as she could go on stage as herself and be captivating. Impressing with both actions and voice, she has a natural way of drawing your eyes and ears to her whenever she is on stage. Working the hardest is Yanick Ghanty who is ridiculously entertaining as his two characters Flicker and Brimstone. Always on stage together, Ghanty repeatedly and unfalteringly switches between the two several times throughout their conversations, and with the only thing visually setting the two aside being the positioning of his baseball cap, his execution is utterly superb with his fight scene raising the biggest laugh of the night.
Overall this isn’t an unenjoyable production and as a stand-alone story it works quite well. Sadly, the feeling of trying to hard cannot be shaken and it either needs to be pitched to a higher age group and slowed right down or simplified completely. A confusing interpretation of a promising concept
Runs until 4 March 2017 | Image: Robert Day