Director: Rene Baker
Reviewer: Clare Boswell
The Frog and the Princess is an adaptation of the Brothers Grimm traditional tale by veteran puppeteer Rene Baker and Norwich Puppet Theatre. The story itself packs quite a moralistic punch dealing with themes ranging from rejection, friendship, prejudice and discrimination. Ultimately it conveys an extremely important message to young children about acceptance of different cultures and challenges the notion of otherness. The story centres on a Princess who lives an extremely privileged life, having her every whim attending to by an army of loyal servants. One day while out playing in the castle grounds, the Princess meets a lowly frog whom she deems to be unworthy of being her friend, just because of what he is. As the Frog and Princess undergo an emotional journey this initial rejection slowly transforms into friendship as both begin to acknowledge and appreciate their many differences.
Rene Baker and Norwich Puppet Theatre have certainly put their own distinctive stamp onto this time-honoured tale and what could have been another run of the mill children’s show is transformed into something quite beautiful through the company’s unique blend of puppetry, movement and music.
The puppets are exquisite and are manipulated sensitively and subtlety by performers Gilbert Taylor and Aya Nakamura. Taylor has a wonderful rapport with the young audience and his relaxed and self-assured approach blends perfectly with the style and aesthetic of the piece. Nakamura has an excellent physicality whose on-stage control and poise makes for some delightful physical sequences. The set is simple yet multi-functional and the use of a rotating rostrum (with easily changeable flooring to denote location) is a lovely touch and allows for some wonderful moments of physical theatre. Props are used scarcely yet effectively and the original musical score is enchanting complimenting the heightened visual style of the production perfectly.
There were some moments where the pace felt a little slow but it was undeniable that the young audience were mesmerised by this humorous and poignant production and the company have clearly found the right balance between music, movement and dialogue. Interactions between the performers and audience felt natural and effortless.
The success of a children’s theatre piece often relies upon the audience’s connection with the lead characters and it is here that Baker and Norwich Puppet Theatre really struck gold. Despite being puppets, both the Frog and the Princess were completely believable and through the excellent manipulation of the puppeteers Taylor and Nakamura, were able to successfully convey the many flaws, foibles and feelings of the characters. The long queue to meet the characters following the show further confirmed that the children fully engaged with the lead characters and understood and empathised with the themes and issues that they represented.
Reviewed on 27th April 2014