Brighton Fringe 2012
Set on a beach, this show uses puppets and simple storytelling for young children to learn French words and enjoy some theatre along the way.
A suitcase on wheels stands centre stage, the word "Paris" clearly emblazoned on it. French accordion music.Tania Czajka is the performer, and we are going to learn some French!
From holidays in St Malo to Brighton by aeroplane, this is a show for young children who are ready to build their French vocabulary and who can do it whilst enjoying a charming piece of one person theatre. Sound effects and music and a bright colourful stage remind me a little of last year’s Long Nose Puppets hit Penguin.
A colourful little French beach, home of a special animal – Lapin. It’s a hot day and Lapin needs to cool down..
This is a show full containing an urge to connect with the audience, a sense of accessibility, paced at the level of a child’s natural curiosity and it’s a million miles from the flashing impatience of a lot of television and yet also reminiscent of 1970s children’s TV where a single camera placed centre largely filmed a kind of theatre tableau.
There are plenty of moments of fascination for the children – different characters and things to see, and the genius of the piece is that it doesn’t set up French and English as "this and that" but instead joins them up, part of the same story journey. French words reveal their meaning in the context of an English told story – they need little overt explanation.
Lapin is visually appealing and, though this puppet is the central character, his antics serve to hold interest in the language learning story journey. The puppets have a cartoon simplicity, a bit Wallace and Grommit, but their simplicity serves the piece well enough.
I feel the puppetry would benefit from a little more precision and tighter coordination between puppet, performer, vocals and music. The puppetry is at its best when it is slow and Escargot the snail is realised effectively holding the attention very well.
There are also too many words in places from Tania. The set is visually interesting with plenty to see. She needs to let the French words rest a little more in silence and trust her puppetry and puppets to hold the fascination of the children with more silences, with movement without spoken words or sound effects. Tania is an accessible, charismatic narrator and she should take one further step at trust to the power of pauses in performed stories. Silence, stillness, then onto the next chapter…
So I am going to judge this not just as theatre, but as educational theatre as well. The children learn new French words, not through being told or taught but by watching, and entering into Lapin’s world. It’s clever conceived, designed, scripted and realised in performance. And it even gave me the taste for broccoli ice cream!