Writer: Julia Donaldson
Director: Brad Fitt
Fishing pole-rod suspended bugs and birds flutter and buzz above the giggling families – teasing and beguiling in equal measure and promise. Mandolin-wind theme tunes tickle. ‘Mum, Dad, hurry-up, they’ve got started already!’ Indeed.
Based on the emerging-reader books from Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, the simplest of narrative forms works on rhyme and repetition, suggestion and detection – the ‘lift-the-flap’ reward experience – Spot The Dog to Where’s Wally and all between. This works for story-time readings – a sixty-minute show throws up many challenges, some not quite resolved – others rather exquisite.
The Acorn Wood animal characters emerge as human/puppet embraced marionettes – hats off to puppet designer, Deborah Mingham. About two-thirds human life-size and hand-rod and foot manoeuvred, they charm the kids to attention. (A small number of mums and dads might also better engage with both, and put away their not-so-smart phones.)
The motion graphics are an utter bamboozle, witty, ingenious and a Welsh-dresser boxed drawer of delights. A sleep-deprivation Tex-Mex mouse ensemble anyone? Louise Rhoades-Brown’s snickerty, skipping animations are SFX nursery dynamite. The promising ‘toe-tapping’ songs that reprise throughout the show are all good fun but need reinforcement and inclusion as many of the toddlers are not initiated in the protocol rules of engagement – the Panto template needs writ large and loud.
Given the near-genius of the aforementioned graphics, how challenging would a damn big song sheet with a bouncy-ball prompt lyric guide have been? The little ones need strict rules on how to misbehave nicely in the generous, protective environs of young theatre let loose. Basic enjoyments such as Bear’s Happy Birthday refrain, even the structure of ‘Hip-hip-hooray’ celebrated with gusto, should and ought to be indulged. If they jolly well don’t get it right – then it’s back to the beginning until they do. And they love it.
It’s a delightful fun show. Let this puppetry ensemble loose sometime soon elsewhere – the potential is, and ought to be, frighteningly dangerous.
Runs Until 31 December 2022