ChildrensFestive 19/20North East & YorkshireReview

Whisker’s First Winter – Cast, Doncaster

Director: Kathleen Yore

Puppet Design and Concept: Kathleen Yore & Rebekah Caputo

Set Design: Ali Allen

Music: Paul Mosley

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

As you enter, it’s the whitest theatre space you can imagine. Two blocks of snowy white crags and white cut-out silhouettes of trees dominate the set which fills most Cast’s Second Space, the floor is snowy, two young people totally in white are mooching tentatively around and the benches and cushions for the audience look like the aftermath of a snowstorm. In other words, this is Winter: Winter in a form we aren’t likely to see very often with global warming.

The two young people in white are Jennie Rawling and Matt Wood, the puppeteers who are going to tell the story of Whisker’s First Winter. While Cinderella is playing in the Main House, Odd Doll Theatre Company offers a treat for the pre-pantomime littlies, officially aimed at 2-6 year-olds. It’s very different: totally non-verbal, pretty much puppets all the way (Rawling and Wood briefly emerging as humans), atmospheric and charmingly visual.

Kathleen Yore and Rebekah Caputo’s concept is simplicity itself, as it needs to be. A bear cub emerges for his first winter; he has fun climbing, slipping and sliding; he is pestered by some crazy squawky birds; he dives in and swims with the fishes; he befriends a mountain yak; he goes back to Mummy Bear as the musical soundtrack almost goes into Home, Sweet Home.

Often it’s beautiful to look at: some of Virpi Kettu’s animations for the ever-changing backcloth, for instance. Sometimes it’s great fun, notably the yodelling, mountain-sliding Yak and the formation-dancing fish. The Whisker puppet is very small, too small really for anything very expressive in movements, but gives the impression of a brave little adventurer surrounded by larger, more colourful, more raucous creatures.

Lighting and, especially, music are very effective. Paul Mosley’s continuous soundtrack reflects changing moods perfectly. Attention among the audience fluctuates, of course, and Rawling and Wood continue regardless of the occasional young wanderer, but the best thing is that Odd Doll makes it an immersive experience, more than just a play. The extended run means that there is time for a foyer installation; puzzles and make-your-own puppets abound and at the end of the play Rawling and Wood bring out some of the puppets to talk with the children – the performance ends in a flurry of selfies.

 

Runs until 29th December 2019 | Image: David Lindsay

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Mark Clegg. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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