(Brighton &) Hove Grown 2021
Two years in the making, with a top creative team and a cast of astounding (mainly) young actors, Gary Sefton’s Truestory production is a thrill from start to finish.
Pluck, teamwork, self-belief and a smattering of good luck drive the narrative of Gary Sefton’s feisty new play, the perfect tonic for these rather gloomy days. It’s an ambitious, beautifully realised show that has just the right mix of suspense and humour to keep an audience of small folk gripped.
With a nod to the Lost Boys, the story tells of children captured in the woods by a sinister spider-man. Can Blu, the only child left in the village, find and save them? The children are all familiar fairy-tale characters given a modern twist and lots of personality, in witty costumes by Ryan Dawson Laight. Brainy Gretel (Chanel McKenzie) and hungry Hansel (Osca Lloyd) squabble, Punzel is a monochrome Goth and Emma Postings is hilarious as Rose, the selfie-fixated, swivel-hipped Sleeping Beauty. Language rich with modern terminology keeps pace with non-stop action; the stage often a whirl of moving bodies, niftily handled props, breathtaking projections and effects.
Whilst we never feel that Blu will fail in their mission to reunite Granny (Gina Cameron) with long lost Red (Sophia Grilli), there are plenty of challenges for the gang to overcome along the way, primarily escaping the sticky web of Gary Sefton’s remarkable Spindra, the giant spider whose appearance is genuinely freaky, causing a momentary hush. The staging is crammed with invention but I particularly enjoyed Spindra expanding from four legs into eight and how his emotional journey is mirrored in his physicality.
The ensemble works brilliantly together and though Blu is the lead, everyone feels integral to the story. Mistreated Wolf (Ben Jones) gets the biggest laugh with his Welsh accented howl “I’m not a dog!” Lily McGibbon as Blu moves like a cartoon character (high praise in my book) and carries Harrison White’s hook-filled songs with a clear high voice, over occasionally too loud backing. It beggars belief that this is Lily’s first professional performance; surely a star in the making. In the dance routines a strong debut by Elise Donaghue as Punzel proves a Goth really can shake their booty.
Richer and more profound than any panto, Blu and the Magic Web manages to be contemporary yet timeless and is a must-see for everyone who has ever felt lost, or different, or in need of a virtual hug.
To paraphrase a certain po-faced ballroom dance judge, ‘In a word darlings. Simply. BLU.TI.FUL.’