I managed to win tickets to see this touring production from the Globe Theatre and Bristol Old Vic at the gorgeous Buxton Opera House. What a piece of luck that turned out to be because this production was truly special, totally memorable and I’m so thankful that I got a chance to experience it.
Witten by Joel Hopwood, this production is directed by Emma Rice, the outgoing Artistic Director of the Globe Theatre and formerly of the wonderful Kneehigh Theatre. It certainly has the feel of some of the Kneehigh productions that I have seen as it magically blends, music, puppetry and enthralling storytelling. Whilst the tales it tells are traditional, they bring modern relevance and a sometimes dark edge to the narrative and the talented cast deliver the complex piece deftly, cleverly balancing the various moods.
The main ‘stories’ covered are Thumbelina, the Emperor’s New Clothes, and the Princess and the Pea, all held together by the Match Girl paying for each tale told by the strike of a match and then observing and sometimes being part of the ensuing tales. Edie Edmundon’s puppetry of the Matchgirl is totally mesmerising and you invest in her character fully, making her final fate even more heartbreaking.
Whilst there is plenty of comedy, most overt in the Emperor’s New Clothes which is an absolute hoot, darker themes are referenced throughout of poverty and discrimination, war and abuse, which could have caused upset for the youngest of audience members, although it was subtly done so perhaps more likely to be go over really little one’s heads. For anyone over say 8 it may provoke conversations but it’s well balanced and for the older audience members these darker overtones really draw you in and are very moving.
The mutli-disciplined cast are fantastically talented and work together so well in their various roles. My particular favourites were Niall Ashdown with his incredible comic timing and engaging way with the audience, and Katy Owen who was such a versatile performer. But the whole cast, and on stage musicians really were superb.
The design is beautiful. A cleverly adaptable set with almost magical transformations and reflects both the worlds of the tales being told and the modern day contrasts between those who have, and those who can only look on and dream. The final scenes were incredibly poignant and moving and I’m not ashamed to say I did have a bit of a blub at the end.
Beautiful storytelling, magically told. In turns thought provoking and fun. Such a fantastic production and highly recommended.