Writer: Carol Ann Duffy
Composer: Murray Gold
Director and Choreographer: Liv Lorent
First published in 2006, Carol Ann Duffy’s children’s book The Lost Happy Endings tells the story of Jub, a woodland sprite whose job is to deliver the happy endings in time for everybody’s bedtimes.
When the backpack she uses to carry the endings is stolen by a witch, every child’s bedtime story loses its happy ending, nobody lives happily ever after, and it is up to Jub to find a way to restore normality.
balletLORENT’s ballet adaptation of the story is set to music composed by Murray Gold, best known for his TV scores for hits from Queer as Folk to Doctor Who and Gentleman Jack. As a result, he knows how to underscore action with music that complements and expands the emotional range of a story, and that is perfect for what may be many children’s first experience of storytelling through dance.
Joanna Lumley’s narration of Duffy’s tale further helps to clarify the action, although truthfully Liv Loren’s choreography needs little assistance. Benedicta Valentina Mamuini’s Jub is spritely and energetic from the off, as she meets a variety of creatures from gorillas to stick insects.
But while Jub is the central character of Duffy’s original fairytale, which is told exclusively from her point of view, opening the story up on stage results in the character fading into the background early on, and never really recovering. This does have the advantage of allowing the rest of the company, who all take on multiple roles, to come to the fore. Most notable is Gwen Berwick, who principally plays the witch and brings out that character’s sad backstory with a series of elegant en pointe routines.
Some of the biggest delights in the piece are the cast’s portrayals of the fairytale stories that no longer end the way we know, from Hansel and Gretel never leaving the oven in the gingerbread house, to Pinocchio finding himself unable to stop lying and Snow White dying when eating the poisoned apple.
Nasir Mazhar’s costume designs provide instant recognition of the various creatures and characters portrayed by the ensemble, allowing for quick changes which make the 10-strong cast feel substantially larger. Designer Neil Murray dresses the stage with intricate step ladders acting as climbing trees for Mamuini to explore, while holes in the floor space provide a remarkable, chilling entrance for Berwick’s first appearance as the witch.
The loss of the happy endings, and their eventual returns, are played out with video sequences projected onto the huge silver moon hanging over Jub’s forest. Both these sequences carry on a bit too long, robbing the piece of the fluidity which elsewhere seems effortless.
But this does not detract too fully from a solid piece of family fare. And it is truly a family-oriented piece: the reconstituted fairy tales, with new happy endings, provide a final bit of knowing fun for the grown-ups in the room. As an introduction to the magic of storytelling through dance, The Lost Happy Endings deserves to live happily ever after.
Continues until 16 April 2022