ChildrensReviewSouth West

In the High and Far Off Times – Cygnet Theatre, Exeter

Writer: Rudyard Kipling
Director &Adaptor:Alistair Ganley
Reviewer: Gareth Roberts

 

In the High and Far Off Times (subtitled Rudyard Kipling’s Animals) is the Cygnet Company’s adaptation of a number of Kipling’s stories. The first half is an adaptation of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, while the second features How the Rhinoceros Got His Skin, The Beginnings of the Armadillos, How the Camel Got His Hump and The Elephant Child.

Intriguingly, the performance manages to retain almost the entire text, juxtaposing a descriptive narrative with the movement occurring on stage. It speaks volumes of the skill of the cast that this is so successful. What could well have been a boring series of monologues is instead brought to life by a vibrant physicality that brims with life. Indeed, the boldness of the production extends into the use of props and scenery, with very little of either used and only a few chairs on stage most of the time. The entire thing rests on the cast, who use their body language and dialogue to conjure an entire environment out of the abstract shapes suggested by the props.

If anything, though, the lack of sets are something of an irrelevance. What really holds the attention are the compelling power of the narratives and the characters that inhabit them. Each narrative is an appealing microcosm, offering up a world filled with trickery and adventure, yet on a small enough scale to allow a focus on the characters. And the characters are both superbly written and, most crucially, portrayed. The maternal malevolence of Nagaina the cobra, the pathetic, whimpering painted jaguar, the empty-headed bird Darcy, and the loutish title character of How the Rhinoceros Got His Skin are brilliantly executed, infinitely watchable and entirely distinctive. What is most impressive about this is that the wide variety of characters are the work of a very small cast. There are only five actors in the entire performance, all of whom are onstage at all times. Their sheer skill is illustrated by how they are able to easily adopt each role.

Although mistakes occur, in the form of occasional fluffed lines, they never become a problem. Instead, the performers are unflappable, and their focused energy and exuberance make them spellbinding, drawing one into the performance, and carrying the along in the flow of the narrative. This is the best kind of family theatre, prepared to place faith in the ability of the audience to understand the more unusual stylistic choices and capable of appealing to anyone.

Runs until 30 January 2016 | Image: Contributed

 

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The Southwest team is under the editorship of Holly Spanner. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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