Brighton Fringe 2012
"A lighthearted comic tale with a giant pop up book! This fairytale for grown-ups, also suitable for children, is best described as Alice in Wonderland meets the Wizard of Oz. "
What monsters and madness lie in the big book ? We are about to find out in a show that combines simple paper and model puppetry with scenery, music and storytelling. It’s billed as a show for all the family.
It’s a fairly short show and follows a boy on a classic journey to somewhere. The style is very much aimed at the kind of thoughts children have in a grown up world. That results in a bit of a stream of ideas and the pacing is often hurried and the flow a bit disconnected. I can see what Flying Dutchman is trying to achieve, but the result is not always satisfactory.
The many scenes in this production are too word-busy for the toddlers in the audience. This is often a problem of fringe children’s shows. For some reason they address children as young adults. Some parts are simple, enlivening for the children, other parts are lost on them. The adult focused material simply leaks away the magic. Yes, it is a show for children and adults, but it should never be a show for children OR adults. This needs to be resolved.
The book unfolds its delights and two dimensions turns into three without a whiff of CGI as each scene is a hand crafted pop-up place. This is a big strength of this production – the scenes are beautiful, sometimes drawing a breath from child and adult alike.
As a technical challenge in this venue this is really about getting the sound balance right. With traffic rumbling past on two sides the music backdrop combines to drown out some of the story delivery. Again, that needs to be resolved if this is to tour in non-theatre venues.
What’s needed here is a resetting of audience seats into a semi round, closer to the action, and the action is created by the stars of this piece – the lovingly crafted and realised pop-up scenes, all crammed into a large story book.
Hurly Burly has been home to some fine children’s theatre but this particular one needs a more intimate black box space, careful lighting and little in the way of noise pollution from outside. I watched one boy watching in the front row. He was activated throughout and that demonstrates the magnetism of the story and engaging charm of the stir teller/performer/puppeteer. Further back children struggled more to hold into the narrative meaning and flow.
The show is helped by some audience participation which, unfortunately was kept to the first row. Get them all involved!
Yet this piece is very well worth seeing for the layered, lovely sets reminding us that we can make that extra dimension in our lives with a creative will that lies within anyone who feels their life is two dimensionally dull.
It’s a sweet show, meaning that it tastes nice as an experience. There’s gentle humour running through it.
But less words please, slow down and have the courage of silence to match the mood music and the beautiful pop up scenes. Less will be more, magic will awaken even more and this will become something very special. There really is a wonderful show here in the making. It needs to step up technically in its performance spaces, and it needs to find a harmony that is not easy to achieve when you aim at the whole family.
But let me leave you with this: heartful performer, lots of funny and clever moments in both the delivery and the story, and those breathtaking mini-sets, all rising from a book!