Writer: Hans Christian Andersen
Adaptors: Rafe Beckley, Jo Wickham and Nicky Diss
Director: Nicky Diss
Music and Composition: Jen Hazel
Reviewer: Sam Lowe
Thick as Thieves company and Red Table Theatre definitely understand how to devise theatre for children. The company has adapted four famous fables written by Hans Christian Anderson for the stage, The Emperor’s New Clothes, Thumbelina, The Nightingale, and The Ugly Duckling. With props and costumes visible on stage, the audience is taken on a magical journey of storytelling, singing, and imaginative play. Children and their parents witness the foolish Emperor, who tries his best to look the best, hear the sweet sound of the nightingale, discover the big heart little Thumbelina has, and recognise the beauty in the ugly duckling.
Grace Kelly Miller, Rachel Fenwick, and Ariel Harrison are personable and pleasant performers, that construct a fun and relaxed environment for the children to watch the show. The children are mmade to feel welcome, when they are warmly greeted and talked to by the cast, as they sit down and wait for the show to start. They are never patronising to the children in how they speak to them, instead they respect them and make them feel good. Throughout the show, the cast is skilled at reacting to the children and are very encouraging to those that come up on stage. Characters in the stories are brought to life through creative use of exaggerated physicality and vocal work.
There are a number of playful ways in which the story is told and the audience participates. They have to make farm animal noises, individuals on the front row are asked to shake a blue sheet whenever water is mentioned, and a child has to shout to the Emperor, “But you’re not wearing anything!” These moments help to maintain the connection between the audience and the performers and make them feel part of the story. The singing of songs interweaves with the narrative skillfully in moments where the children are to learn about the prominent messages and themes of the story. Disney knew best that music has the power to engage children. The harmonies are lovely to listen to. As there is lots of audience participation during the show, this requires a set up at the start, which takes a while. Also, the show does feel quite long and by the end some children become a little rowdy.
There is a great responsibility and importance in making theatre for children because it has the power to educate them for future life, and the company clearly recognise this. The morals in Anderson’s stories such as, never giving up, following your passions, and staying true to yourself, really shine through in this colourful and joyful production.
Reviewed on 19 February 2017 | Image: Contributed