by Mike Sizemore from the novel by Diana Wynne Jones.

Southwark Playhouse The Vault) Shipwright Yard corner of Tooley St and Bermondsey St SE1 2TF To 7 January 2012.
3pm 17, 21-23, 27-30 Dec, 4, 7 Jan.
7.30pm 12-17, 19-23, 27-30 Dec, 2-7 Jan.
Runs 1hr 10min No interval.

TICKETS: 020 7407 0234.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 10 December.

Technical wizardry and good performances help tell a fantasy tale.
Every year around Christmas London theatre come up with some offbeat piece of theatrical adventure in the annual temporary luxury of knowing audiences will turn-up because of something festive in the cold winter air.

This year Southwark Playhouse offers, in its atmospheric vault, Mike Sizemore’s adaptation of the late Diana Wynne Jones’ 1986 fantasy Howl’s Moving Castle. This Gothic piece is built round the relationship between gentlemanly wizard Howl (who, it emerges, does just that) and attractive young Sophie Hatter (a hatter), who spends most of the time as dignified old Sophie, owing to a spell from the somewhat wicked Witch of the Waste.

There’s also the magic castle, in its remote, mountainous setting – until it hurtles away past the nearest village. Cue technology. The pop-up castle front emerging from the centre of a blank rear wall is just the start. Images swoop across the space, focusing the windows on a wall with swift precision, just where Kristin McGuire’s young Sophie stands drawing the curtains.

The mountainous vista opens up impressively, its black-and-white starkness contrasting the highly-coloured fantasy of a village, an estate of little houses cramped in cosy contrast to the remote vastnesses around. Such projections can easily dwarf mere actors, but Daniel Ings, in the sleek black garb of a sinister late Victorian street-prowler of distinction, Kristin McGuire as shy young Sophie, then the athletic Witch and, especially, Susan Sheridan as the bewitched Hatter senior, stand up strongly within the visual impact.

They speak clearly and naturally, though they often have little to do except prowl the stage speaking, or listening – there is limited interaction. What they listen to is the voiceover narration of Stephen Fry – cultured, calm and clear. Where the plot lost me (or I lost the plot) is in the distinction between this narration by the castle, and it, or Howl’s, fire-spirit Calcifer. There’s some bright red visual flaming in a furnace in the building’s bowels, but it’s probably helpful to know the original to distinguish between a castle with a voice of its own and a spirit that also comes as a voiceover.

Young Sophie/Witch of the Waste: Kristin McGuire.
Narrator: Stephen Fry.
Old Sophie: Susan Sheridan.
Calcifer: James Wilkes.
Howl: Daniel Ings.

Directors/Designers: Davy McGuire, Kristin McGuire.
Lighting: Tim Bray.
Sound: Jerry Ibbotson.
Composer: Fyfe Dangerfield.
Associate director: Jack Lowe.

2011-12-14 15:59:36

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