Writer: Benjamin Storey
Director & Animator: Ryan Dewar
This is an online presentation by Gala Theatre Durham and Interabang Productions. Described as a play, it is really a mixture of storytelling, animation and songs. Written and performed by Benjamin Storey, who also wrote the songs, it is a quirky folk tale of old Newcastle, the River Tyne and the men – and boys – who went to sea.
The storytelling takes place in an 1899 living room, as Storey portrays a lamplighter, or leerie, about to tell a bedtime story to his (unseen) children. His style is simple as he introduces the tale of a boy and a seahorse, supposedly an old legend of Tyneside. Much of the story is told in animation, chiefly digital shadow figures. This animation is stylised and captivating. The silhouette figures, set against more realistic landscapes and seascapes, are strangely compelling, their very simplicity being their charm. The songs, perfectly performed by Matthew Nicholson, are folksy and regional and very effective in adding atmosphere. The story is sweet and melancholic and not too predictable, with a strong sense of time and place. The characters are un-threatening. Nothing here is too frightening for young children.
The sections where the camera returns to the storyteller are less compelling. His eyes are on the book rather than the camera for large sections and the room itself seems hastily contrived, combining candles and an obviously electric lamp. Also there are two clocks in the room, each telling different times, of which neither seem appropriate. To be fair, one should expect minor flaws where theatres are re-purposing live theatre for streaming with what is available to them at the time. On the plus side, the use of animation in the piece makes it particularly well-suited to viewing online and allows the stunning images to take centre stage. The viewer might speculate that it could work perfectly well as an entirely animated piece, perhaps with just an opening where one sees the storyteller.
If any elements jarred with this reviewer, they were insignificant to the usually fidgety and fractious seven-year old at his side, who remained silent and transfixed throughout the half-hour duration and expressed extreme satisfaction at the end. This is perfectly-pitched family entertainment with an ideal length and sufficient narrative drive to keep young children from getting restive. At the same time there is plenty to charm their accompanying adults.
Available HERE until 20 June 2020