Spectacular! – Actors’ Church, London

Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

Writer: Tara Harris

Director: Stephanie Crome

In among the churchyard roses, Mrs Marigold and her circle of colourful neighbours are here waiting to tell you a story.

Mrs M (as she asks us to call her) is friends with the family two doors down – Flo, Starla and their mother Fiona. The grumbly landlord Mr. Stern comes by, spewing threats and giving the family a week to leave their rented house, and threatening Mrs. M’s art shop as well. Without a second thought, she invites the family to live in the shop, and once there Flo and Starla find a way through Mrs. M’s magic door and potentially find a way to save shop, home and the day.

Aimed at kids aged around three, the magical shenanigans involve simple and wholesome songs, sweet looking puppets, and masses of audience participation. The children are invited to help Flo and Starla solve a colour-matching puzzle to open the door to let them into the magical puppet world. And they become involved in saving the shop from Mr. Stern shutting it down by contributing pictures to the magic art shop to help it be the best it can be with the colouring pencils and paper they got on the way in. Charmingly, they’re also roped in to help the bee-obsessed Mrs. M stay on track in case she goes off on a storytelling tangent by shouting “Honey” at her.

As Mrs. M and one of the magic puppets (Busy Bee, of course), Bethany Filler is bright and cheery as any classic kids presenter with crystal pronunciation, an abundance of pep and energy, and a generous attention to suggestions and questions from the kids. As the sisters, their mother and various puppet characters, Jemma Carlisle, Emily Cass and Tara Harris bounce around joyfully, a range of child-pleasing voices to bring even the youngest of the audience into their world.

It’s all done through simple props, engaging puppets, clear storytelling (it’s a bit simple for adults, but really, there’s enough out there for grown ups already) and a lot of opportunities for the kids to get engaged with the show. It does ebb and flow on the latter point, however, with periods of great engagement, then stretches where it’s more a “sit and watch” type situation and kids’ attention wanders.

The best judge of this, of course, would be the kids. And while there’s a few times in the hour long production where restlessness and fidgeting set in, the final impression must be taken from the children’s point of view. At one point in the final few minutes there was one little boy who got so excited he tried to bite his chair – a fairly solid endorsement.

Runs until 28 July 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

Wholesome and joyful

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. 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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