Creator: Adam Bennett
Director: Steve Tiplady
Reviewer: Jay Nuttall
“Tough as tree; sharp as leaves; slick as water; rough as bark; small as crumb – Tom Thumb”. The references to nature in DNA Puppetry and Visual Theatre’s retelling of the minute mythical figure of Tom Thumb is no coincidence. Performed using foraged pieces of wood from beaches and forestry, this is an intriguing premise for a puppetry piece about a legendary figure.
Conceived, created and performed by DNA’s Adam Bennett, we are taken on a journey from little Tom Thumb’s conception to hero as he slays the dragon in the court of King Arthur. Accompanied by musician and folk music specialist Sian Phillips, the scattering of ‘found’ wooden objects onstage come to life and become woven into the storytelling. As no-one really knows the origins of Tom Thumb (although first printed in English in 1620) any theatre-maker or storyteller has an enormous licence for invention. In this telling, Bennett imagines the pocket-sized protagonist to be the offspring of Merlin and Titania – half human and half magic. During the 50-minute show, Tom rides a mouse, is captured by an owl, eaten by an ogre, returned to the ocean, eaten by a fish and knighted by King Arthur before being sent to slay the dragon. Life is pretty full-on for this little wooden hero.
The over-riding charm of this show are the objects themselves: the simplicity of Tom in his little red hat to the beauty of the fish or the dragon that (seemingly miraculously) have been foraged. As Bennett encourages at the end of the show there will be many small hands picking up pieces of wood and reimagining what they might be with a little inventiveness.
For all of the delightfulness and bewitchery, the show is a perhaps more style over substance. Although a conscious decision to employ simplistic storytelling, the lack of a narrative drive or raised stakes on Tom’s adventure leaves him bumbling along somewhat. Indeed, it is this ramshackle style throughout the piece that, although in places has charm, can’t sustain attention for 50 minutes. Bennett has an easy style as narrator and puppeteer that allows the audience to become his casual observer but can quickly slip into believing we are watching a young child roleplay with their toys. It isn’t helped when the aesthetic of the woodland is destroyed when, playing King Arthur, Bennett drags on a bright pink plastic storage container or toy box and takes a selfie on his mobile phone.
There is an intimate attractiveness of this show that is perhaps lost in the large studio space of The Lowry. I imagine the hopes for this piece is that is may be able to be performed in outside spaces at festivals or perhaps around a campfire. It is a brand new show in its infancy and will surely tighten over time.
Reviewed on 24 January 2016 | Image: Contributed