Choreographer: Tamsin Fitzgerald from the story by Hans Christian Andersen
Composer: Angus Macrea
Reviewer: John Kennedy
The very noble, if rather esoteric programme notes draw an obtuse reference to the ‘colourless’ consequences of Brexit contrasting with the Company’s multi-hued experiences in India. This re-imagining of Hans Christian Andersen’s eponymous story is their response. Thespian rescue-therapy? Be that as it may, it is just as well that the title and core narrative conceit is all that ‘inspires’ them from Andersen’s tale. Had any of this afternoon’s infant-school audience been exposed to the original text they would now be in therapy and their parents/teachers slapped a constraint order. Its turgid, proselytising morbidity (a Brexit theme there, granted) makes The Pilgrim’s Progress seem like a pub-crawl with Oliver Reed and Bill Bryson.
Lovely title, enduring tropes. Irascible rascal kid drags out impending bedtime curfew. Come the midnight magic hour some benign entity brings dreams and toys to life. What can go wrong? Were this performance a Play School/Take Hart sketch lasting three to five minutes, nothing would. Forty-five minutes is another matter where stretched form barely compensates for thin substance.
Our hero, Jack, chalk sketches a house and smoky chimney, inspired by an acrobat suspended on a silver hoop – the Man in the Moon. A jolly chimney-sweep appears and cavorts with Jack. Do the kids have any term of reference for this archetype? Granted, it obliquely references the source text with Moon winking at a chirpy chimney-boy poking his head out of a pot stack. Later, a sou’wester fisherman takes them on a sloshing voyage – but no pirates, no whales – no way. For the climax, a rather impressive dragon appears which singularly fails to elicit any discernible response from the kids. It appears to break down in tears. A salutary metaphor for much of this show. There are a number of dead elephants already crowding the stage to explain this.
The expansive synth-lush sound-track almost constantly overwhelms the auditorium. With no signature melodies or memorable riffs to lend association or recall, rarely is there space that allows the kids to acknowledge or respond to the action or to feed on each other’s excitement. ‘Interactive’ it is not. Brief snatches of speech need to be clarified as embedded dialogue is more than just compensatory, functional prompts subsumed by the overbearing music – if it’s dance and mime then keep it so. Countless opportunities to engage the kids are passed over. Suspense, jeopardy, surprise and comedy hardly get a look in. It poses the question, who is this show for?
The sets are ingenious and are used to create shifting dimensional opportunities for mysterious happenings but are unimaginatively under-exploited. It takes over five minutes of Jack bouncing about with his bed before a drawer mysteriously opens. Suspense and comedy gold for the taking but mostly squandered. The closing piece sees the set lit up with luscious, multi-coloured neon strips – far too late. Nothing quite becomes this performance but for the end of it.
Runs until 2 December and on tour | Image: Luke Evans