Unity Theatre, Liverpool. Saturday 3rd May, 2014.
I am a huge fan of Theatre in Education and Kids’ shows. When I saw the flyer for this, I was embarrassingly excited considering my age, but excited nonetheless; not just the promise of a fun, creative and environmentally conscious show, but a show including puppets made from rubbish, showing children how the unwanted and unnoticed can take shape as something engaging and worthwhile. I was very, very intrigued to see how this idea came to fruition.
I continued to expect great things when I saw the set design (by Colin Mander); a huge structure almost filling the stage space, seemingly made from bin bags (evidently adorning a metal framework but I shall play along, this was a kids’ show, after all). I instantly began imagining the ways in which this impressive sight would function within the show; various entrances and exits amongst the heap surely- and possibly some trap-door type gags or nice and nasty surprises amongst the bags? Characters clamouring over the structure on exciting exploratory expeditions? I was both pleased and disappointed in the use of this structure. The main function was to have a front section removed to reveal our actors; a little cubby-hole housing various props and some use of the structure as a store for exciting bags containing some of the adorable and charismatic puppet characters. It was used well and if nothing else, it provided an excellent visual backdrop, but as far as making truly great or extensive use of an impressive overall design/ visual, I was left wanting. I simply felt that something so impressive to look at could have played a grander role, and surely if my imagination travelled along the aforementioned lines, a hyper-imaginative youngster would have had somewhat similar hopeful expectations?
Onto the cast now, who were brilliant examples of the bouncy-happy folk inhabiting childrens’ books and theatre productions; highly engaging and bursting with enthusiasm. Simon Palmer, Charlotte Dubery, Mohsen Nouri and Edward Wren were an incredibly strong team in this production. Their interaction with the audience was lovely, their characters infinitely positive and fun and their ‘relationships’ with the puppets were sweetly convincing. There was also a lot of humour which is of course an important staple for this genre and overall, I thought that the cast were an accomplished team of multi-rolers (I am including puppet characterisation in this). They were not only capable of holding a theatre full of young and enthused children in the palms of their hands, but clearly talented in doing so.
The puppets (by Yvonne Stone and Max Humphries) were a source of glee for both children…and me! I thought they were sweet (and sour, in some cases) and extremely likeable – key components for a show of this nature – and I thought that they were puppeteered with skill and insight; I was more than happy to suspend disbelief and engage with these inanimate-no-more creatures. I also thoroughly appreciated the talent used to create them and bring them to life with any sense of believability in the mind of a child. That said, I was, perhaps unfairly, hoping to see a puppet being strung together and brought to life within the production; demonstrating for the young and imaginative audience how they too might be able to visualise and pursue the creation of a character within a heap of discarded objects…but perhaps that would have been a little too ambitious for a production of this scale.
The wonderful variety of puppets and the means through which they were given animation was very impressive and I particularly appreciated the fact that although educational regarding waste and the environment, the lessons were subtly and appropriately embedded rather than dull or clumsily glaring. Each puppet character, from the jug-duck, to the tin dog, to the bin bag man, to the variety of hand and finger puppets, was well defined and presented to the audience as example after example of the fact that rubbish can be much more than…rubbish. I left the theatre feeling that, having consciously seen the production with the kind-set of a child (as much as is possible), I had indeed seen rubbish in a new light and if I were indeed a small child with willing parents, I might have gone home and created something out of, allegedly, nothing.
I will be keeping an eye open for future productions from Theatre Rites and I whole-heartedly recommend that if you have a young family members, or, like me, you love to see shows like this regardless of age, you do the same. I realise that much of this is difficult to visualise, so here’s a helpful link to a video which perfectly captures the afore-mentioned theatrical magic: http://youtu.be/9k6wSLT1Gu4