Writer: Jeanne Willis and Gwen Millward
Adapted and Directed by Poppy Burton-Morgan
Reviewer: Clare Howdon
Metta Theatre’s The King of Tiny Things is currently touring the UK until November and is an adaptation of the award-winning story by authors Jeanne Willis and Gwen Millward. It tells the tale of two sisters and their night-time encounter with a mysterious winged creature who happens to be the king of all small living things, ranging from juggling slugs and contortionist caterpillars to a trio of baby bats.
There is plenty to like about this piece and on paper it has all the elements to make a fantastic children’s theatre production. The cast comprising of Rosamond Martin, Madeleine McGowan, Ludo Helin and Elise Briccolani are all undoubtedly skilled circus performers and there are some captivating sequences, namely McGowan’s Daddy-long-legs portrayal that entails some very impressive stilt walking, and Briccolani’s beat-boxing Slug, whose horns turn out to be two juggling clubs. Not to mention a slick climactic acrobatics display when Helin’s caterpillar eventually transforms into a beautiful butterfly. William Reynold’s colourful, multi-functional set also establishes the world of the creatures very well and the shadow puppetry at the beginning of the play clearly drew the young audience in and engaged their imaginations.
Sadly however, this engagement wasn’t held throughout the duration of the production and despite a strong start and some fantastic moments, overall The King of Tiny Things doesn’t quite hit the mark. Poppy Burton-Morgan’s direction lacks pace and focus and as a result of this, the simple message so clearly evident in Willis and Millward’s book, gets lost amid a plethora of albeit impressive puppetry, song, spoken work, shadow play and circus. The four performers, while possessing unquestionably talented circus skills, lack the strong storytelling expertise so desperately needed when performing to a young audience. Although the songs are cleverly written and catchy, the audience interactions are a little lacklustre; the repetitive request to join in and sing ‘follow me’ not quite capturing the children’s full attention.
Despite these flaws, The King of Tiny Things certainly has potential. It seems that Metta Theatre have tried to cram too much into this production, resulting in an unfocused and unclear show. Often some of the most successful pieces of children’s theatre are simplistic, so perhaps it would be worth Metta Theatre stripping back the play and focusing on what would really make this an exceptional production; the stunning circus strengths of their performers and stronger storytelling. The other elements, while notable, are cluttering what could be a successful and magical piece of children’s theatre.
Reviewed on Thursday 6 August