Sunday 16th December 2018 at Leeds Central Library.
Family shows which strike the balance between being child-friendly and genuinely engaging for all are relatively hard to come by. The shows which get past that first round rarely make it over the next hurdle: actors performing with a dash of kid’s TV energy rather than a bucket so as to keep the accompanying grown ups hooked as much as the kids. This production from Wrongsemble Theatre ticks both boxes, thereby making this a great quality show which captures both the young and the old(er) in the audience and keeping us with them every step of the way as they deliver a trio of revamped classic stories.
We begin with our three-strong multi-talented cast as employees of the local library. The moody librarian Mr Scrudge (Russell Richardson) inspires his two employees to craft a combination of A Christmas Carol and The Elves and the Shoemaker. Scrudge becomes Scrooge, a scowling mean-spirited shoemaker who is transformed by a chance encounter with kind, generous elves who make shoes in the name of joy and generosity rather than profit and gain. Richardson gives an endearingly sincere performance and finishes the tale as a Saint Nick type with a gentle chuckle and a twinkle.
Next up in the trio of tales is a take on The Red Shoes inspired by employee Edith’s insular character. In this version the red shoes bring a shy character (Edith Kirkwood) out of her shell, teaching her that although she saw the shoes as the cure for the anxiety she felt, they were merely a placebo and she is in fact just as fun and worthy without them as she was with them. Kirkwood’s performance is thoroughly absorbing and she makes us instantaneously root for her character as soon as we hear her doubting herself. Kirkwood also really shines throughout with a wonderful melodic voice and she is accompanied in some sweet harmonies by Rosie Fox who provides the production a guitarist to boot.
Library employee Rosie (Rosie Fox) comes back from a spending spree and is showing very clear signs of being a materialistic greedy guts – and in the season of good will to all no less! Somewhat inspired by this, the team offer up the last of the three festive tales: a modern reboot of the dated The Princess and the Pea which here becomes the Princess and the Sprout.
In it, a selfish spoiled princess very much akin to the sullen Rosie (played with a striking gregariousness by Fox) learns a harsh lesson in kindness and human decency through the medium of punishment by…endless sprouts! Like Scrudge/Scrooge, she too learns the error of her ways and all is well with the world again. This last story provides a grand culmination of the afternoon’s tales and also showcases all the best features of Wrongsemble’s production all at once: big bold characters, song, dance, humour and creative approaches to simple staging.
With music, puppetry and well conjured characters, there’s plenty here to entertain and delight as you while away an afternoon with all the family. Within each story, the cast offer up some enthusiastic music sequences and they simply conjure live sound effects made with everyday objects to give the production an additional layer of creativity and intrigue – it’s child’s play after all, so why not give the wee ones some creative ideas for storytelling with a little flair?
The company’s choice to mash-up traditional tales and to deliver three compact stories in active, new ways makes the show a winner all round. I particularly enjoyed the ‘woke’, condensed and flipped take on these tales; none of them feel clunky or overdone, instead, each feels fresh and engaging as stand alones and in sequence. With a strong cast at the helm of such a venture, The Princess and the Sprout and Other Festive Tales proves itself to be a super splendid children’s production – catch it if you can!
The Princess and the Sprout and Other Festive Tales plays in Room 700 of Leeds Central Library until December 31st 2018 and you can find tickets here.