Brighton Fringe 2014
There were eighty or ninety of us in the theatre at Sallis Benny – about two thirds were children, excited at the prospect of a puppet show – and a third were their mums and dads who’d brought them. I had a sneaky feeling that they were actually just as excited as the little ones …
And they were little. They ranged in age from two to about ten, and when I saw the relatively small screen down at the front, I wondered if the show would manage to hold their attention. Andy Miller, the presenter, stood by the screen and explained that this was a fairy story about The Three Bears, and that all fairy stories begin the same way – "Once upon a time …"
The Bears’ cottage in the woods was a back-projection, and we saw them as shadows – Father Bear, Mummy Bear and a tiny Baby Bear – skipping across the screen. They left the house for a walk in the woods because their breakfast porridge was too hot, and Andy mentioned Goldilocks; mischievous and golden-haired. Although only two-dimensional, it was charming and beautifully done – but would it be enough?
Suddenly the screen went blank and a head punched through it. A couple more twists and tearing of the screen and we could see a little fox looking out at us. Andy jumped back. "Who are you?"
"I ‘eard you mention Goldifox" The fox had a husky voice, the kind of urban Estuary English that made you think he’d spent too much of his life playing Pool. Andy told him that ‘Goldilocks‘ was the name, "and you’re not golden at all, you’re sort of – fox coloured". "No problem" said the fox, and he dived below the screen to reappear with a great gold medallion round his neck. It was an enormous golden dollar sign, and made him look like some kind of Gangsta rapper.
"My name’s Charlie" he told us. Possibly also his drug of choice – though I hope that went over the heads of the little ones. A few more rips and tears, gripping the material with his mouth, and he’d completely destroyed the screen. "I’m a very ‘elpful fox" he said winningly, "I’d like to ‘elp you tell the story – and we should call it Goldifox"
A word to the wise. If you’re going to perform a fairy story to a group of children, don’t ever enlist the help of an urban fox. Andy tried to tell the story of the Three Bears’ breakfast, but Charlie was keen to do it his way. The end result was slapstick mayhem, with Andy getting a face full of custard pie porridge, and as soon as he’d cleaned that off he had cornflakes tipped all over him. And a second time, just as he’d brushed up the first lot – Charlie was very keen …
Then there were the sausages (which we all had to count) and a big Rat who stole them, and much, much more. We loved it – imagine Basil Brush meeting Mr Punch and you’ll get the general feel of the show. Charlie’s not posh like Basil, though – I suspect that he’d have tried to pick Mr Punch’s pocket!.
There was lots of audience involvement; the children calling out to alert Andy to something happening behind his back, like when the Rat kept eating the sausages. At the end, Andy said that the Three Bears weren’t frightening enough, and that three of us should go out front and be bears.
For some inexplicable reason, Andy didn’t choose me (even though I’d have been perfect) but some little girl from the row in front. I’ll get over it. Finally there were three children out there in little brown bear suits with hoods – one with his hood worn like a huge cowl covering his face so he looked like a diminutive Obi-Wan Kenobi. Unforgettable.
Beautifully expressive acting from Charlie – Sally Edwards let him be manic, and then she would make him roll onto his side and stare lovingly up at Andy. She was great with the children after the show, too – sitting with groups of them and letting them stroke Charlie while he looked from one child to the next. Sally’s very talented – Charlie looked just as lifelike, close-up on her forearm and hand, as he had done before, leaning out from the puppet theatre during the show.
This was a beautiful production, not over-taxing for the children, but fast-moving and managing to engage all the different age-groups who went along. (Including the over-forties!). The little ones, especially, were buzzing with excitement as they left – they’d enjoyed being able to see the puppets close up. Wishworks really know how to engage with an audience – of any age.