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Brighton Fringe 2017

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch

Pied Piper Theatre Company

Genre: Children's Theatre, Family, Puppetry, Storytelling

Venue: Warren Studio 2


Low Down

The Pied Piper Theatre Company celebrate 40 years of the classic book. Live music, mayhem, and… mustard, boasting “original music inspired by Folk of the British Isles, audience participation and all the sights and sounds of the sea bring to to life Ronda and David Armitage’s much-loved tale.”


It’s so refreshing to come across a piece of children’s theatre which relies on excellent warm (yet not shrill) audience interaction, honed performance skills, spot-on timing, well-chosen plot, simple but well-placed musicianship, and the imagination, goodwill and participation of the audience…. rather than overblown props, special effects, an insistent moral message, recorded music, and slightly neurotic interaction with the audience.

The Lighthouse Keepers Lunch is, happily, an example of the former.

Performers Gareth Cooper and Nicola Sangster are relaxed almost to the point of seeming unprofessional at first. But in the rainsoaked venue (rather than leaking noise this time, Warren Studio Two had been leaking water after the downpours of that Thursday afternoon)  Cooper and  Sangster chat happily with each other and to the audience, with simple self-assuredness and gentle warmth as, one by one, latecomers arrive out of the rain and mud, and slowly and unhurriedly sort themselves places to sit, in front of a very simple set. We could see that our imaginations were going to be employed well.

The light housekeepers lunch is clearly a popular classic, one of ours for sure, and my three-year-old daughter and I were really looking forward to it.

The place was soon packed, although there was so much mud outside Studio two, that we might have had to borrow Mr Grinlings rowing boat to arrive or escape again, or make use of  the story’s long rope on a winch, to hoist supplies in and out to us, the sea of mud outside certainly having been quite a challenge to traverse.

However inside, the warmth, not of the venue, but of the performers, soon made its way into the cockles of our hearts and soon the audience were happily squawking along and becoming the seagulls that were to become the bane of Mr and Mrs Grinlings lunchtime lives.

It is clear that these two performers know the story, how to talk to children, their craft, and each other so well that their relaxedness is infectious, and the children enjoy every morsel of the story as one of the delicious lunches that Mrs Grinling is trying to hoist across to us from the stage.

Gareth Cooper went from a jolly warm lighthouse keeper, to a happy mandolin player and back again as if the two were in his blood. 

Creating a world which includes a cliff, the sea, a cottage, a lighthouse, and marauding seagulls could be a challenge. But with a little miniaturisation, ingenuously done at just the right times, and the happy participation of the children, everything is created like a delicious meal, peppered with sweet and simple gorgeous songs for everyone to join in with.

I don’t want to tell you too much, about how Mr and Mrs Grinling finally thwart the seagulls that have been plaguing Mr Grinling picnic basket, as it makes its way across the rope from the clifftop cottage, to the Lighthouse where he goes each day to polish his lamp. That would be a grievous spoiler. And this show, although you may have read it to your child, cuts the mustard and stands happily and confidently alone as piece, even if you haven’t.

Any less experienced or professional company might have tried to make some awfully unnecessary and egregious adult joke out of the polishing of the lighthouse lamp, but the parents are left safe and happy with an innocent story, and plenty of songs to sing on the way home through the damp and drips and mud.

My daughter is often slightly nervous of shows, or any story, where there is “upset” or sadness. She absolutely loved this.
It was pitched just right with two very everyday and ordinary people telling a simple story, sometimes in chorus or unison, with perfect timing, plenty of repetition and a rhythm and flow like the regularity of the tide, or the rotation of the Lighthouse lamp.
Reliable, trustworthy, secure, entertaining, warm (like Mr Grinling’s jumper or Mrs Grinling’s kitchen, where she makes a lovely creations each day).

Hamish the cat was right there too, a simple but likely puppet, and of course for the rest of the day I had to play Mr Grinling, to my daughters Mrs Grinling, and we spent the next 24 hours batting away imaginary seagulls and looking for Hamish. The story stayed with her for longer than many others.

In it’s simplicity, it is as near perfect a children’s show as I would want to take my children to and I would be very happy to get to another of this company’s shows.
I know my daughter would love to go and see the same show again.

And possibly again!