Writer: Mary Norton
Adaptor: Bryony Lavery
Director: Robert Shaw Cameron
Reviewer: John Roberts
It’s that time of year again when the in-the-round pop-up auditorium takes residence in Chester’s Grosvenor Park and a large ensemble of actors bring three shows in rep throughout the summer (The Borrowers, Twelfth Night and Henry V). An occasion is always guaranteed due to the intimate nature of the venue and the atmosphere it provides, is there anything better than watching theatre and sipping an ice-cold glass of prosecco?
This year’s family offering is an adaptation of Mary Norton’s classic tale of strong female empowerment and independence The Borrowers. In this version adapted by Bryony Lavery the tale is firmly rooted in Chester but more so in Grosvenor Park itself and the surrounding homesteads down by the river and the groves. This re-setting of the tale helps the younger members of the audience connect to the piece and the recognition that places they know are mentioned really captivates their imagination. Likewise, Robert Shaw Cameron imbibes the production with a wicked sense of imagination, the creation of the animals in the park is deliciously divine however there are moments where the show doesn’t live up to the same magical standards.
When you create a show, especially those with musical numbers/interludes that are designed for children, productions usually fall flat quite quickly, instead of realising that children can deal with sophisticated musical numbers, we are generally left with nothing more than a simplified tune with a sprinkling of words to go with them and this is what John Biddle has created for this production. When you put these numbers alongside the magic being created on stage by a brilliant hard-working ensemble and next to Rhys Jarman’s superbly realised costume and set designs (which really do steal the show) then Biddle is missing the mark, but the axe shouldn’t fall upon his shoulders, Shaw Cameron must also saddle some of the blame by not picking up on this early enough on in the process to ensure a suitable fix is created. Children should not be laden to second best at any stage.
As mentioned the cast are hard-working especially when Lavery’s adaptation sadly jumps all over the place making the plot (especially the rescue attempt) a little confusing, that said credit must be given to Vanessa Schofield who makes a delightful heroine, her Arietty is articulate and adventurous making her the perfect fit for a family show. Chris Wright and Lisa Howard are joyous as Arietty’s parents Pod and Homily while strong support comes from Joseph Millson as the alcoholic Oliver Overmantle and Sarah-Jane Potts as his unexpected beau-to-be Ronnie Rainpipe. A brilliant double act also comes from Whitney Kehinde and Mitesh Soni as Drudge and Trudge who are in charge of bringing all the wildlife in the park brilliantly to life.
The Borrowers is a fun show and running at just over two hours including the interval is a perfect afternoon treat for the family, it’s just a shame that inconsistencies across several areas including the writing/music make this just an enjoyable afternoon out rather than an unforgettable one.
Runs in REP until 25 August 2019 | Image: