Writer: Anthony Browne
Adapter: Rachel Barnett
Music and songs: Julien Butler
Director: Roman Stefanski
Reviewer: Richard Hall
Former children’s laureate, Anthony Browne is one of the UK’s most popular authors for young children. This stage adaptation of one of his best loved picture books by Rachel Barnett comes to the Waterside Arts Centre, courtesy of the Polka Theatre in London where it opened in 2013 to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the book’s first publication.
Perfectly pitched for audiences aged four plus, the production directed by Roman Stefanski, is a delight throughout. It combines catchy songs, with skillful puppetry and clever staging, to portray a captivating and enchanting story of a young girl and her obsession for gorillas.
The audience meet Hannah on the eve of her seventh birthday. Her bedroom is covered with pictures and photos of gorillas. Hannah has read about gorillas in books and watched them on television and is desperate to meet one in real life. Sometimes Hannah wishes that her dad, who is always very busy, was more like a gorilla, because father gorillas play with their offspring.
Looking forward to a very special birthday present from her dad, Hannah is disappointed when he gives her a small toy gorilla. When the toy gorilla, wearing her dad’s coat and hat magically comes to life, Hannah embarks on a thrilling moon light journey where she discovers the real meaning of friendship. Using puppets, sumptuous music and a highly inventive use of household furniture, the two excellent performers, Josie Ceris and Carl Cochrane, brilliantly bring to life Hannah and the gorilla’s breath taking ride over London and its famous landmarks.
With the gorilla Hannah is able to do all the things that she would like to do with her dad but cannot do because he is always either too busy or tired. The gorilla takes her to visit the zoo, watch films in a cinema starring other gorillas and eat all her favourite food in a restaurant, including cakes topped with red cherries! When she wakes in the morning Hannah discovers that her dad has mysteriously changed overnight, he is no longer tired or busy and for her birthday is keen to do all the things she has done with the gorilla. The show ends with them happily setting out together to embark on an action packed birthday adventure.
Although this show only lasts 45 minutes, in this reviewer’s opinion it packs into it more theatrical magic than some children’s shows twice as long manage. Watershed Theatre has revived this production especially for the Waterside Arts Centre. Gorilla is the latest in a long line of successful shows that Watershed Theatre has presented at this venue. Hopefully this excellent production will eventually tour further afield, where it can be enjoyed by even more children.
Reviewed on 2 April 2016 | Image: Contributed