by Jamila Gavin based on Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Just So Stories’
Polka Theatre To 9 November
Runs 2hr 5min One interval
TICKETS 020 8543 4888
Review Timothy Ramsden 31 October
Eventual theatrical colour is the main feature of this new Polka show.I’ve never been able to take Kipling’s stories about how leopards got spots etc. seriously since coming across H.F. Smart’s Punch parody, ‘How the Robin got His Red Breast’ – it involves crashing into a fresh-painted post-box (‘It was a lovely scarlet colour and had "V.R." on it, which perhaps you know stands for "Very Red". You’ve seen them marked like that, haven’t you, Littlest of Lovebirds?’).
Not many people do run into Smart’s parody these days, and those not so disenchanted might be a little amused by Polka’s latest show. Jamila Gavin avoids the more cloyingly Edwardian paternalism in Kipling. Yet her frame story children left with comically brisk nanny in the Nursery while mummy and daddy tootle back to India; enter ‘Uncle Ruddy’ with his bedtime stories to make all tickety-boo takes some time to introduce the Kipling tales.
Greg Banks’ production includes individual fun moments: Uncle Ruddy first seen as a fearsome shadow invader, wiggling bottoms and comic manifestations from a trunk. But it remains narrowly realistic, never using, for example, the physical theatre possibilities Kipling’s stories offer. And there’s only a thin-rationed one and a half stories by the interval.
Later, things speed up; they also descend towards panto, with Simon Thorp’s Djinn the kind of mock-oriental you’d have thought went out with Music Hall. Still, at least the part fits his playing-to-children heartiness better than ‘Uncle Ruddy’. This character’s a strange invention: developing neither the Kipling connection it suggests, nor the India link. It’s stated but not explored despite the rich associations available with a story-writer fascinated by the country and an adapter born beneath the Himalayas.
More positively, the second act colourfully transports the action, creating a jungle within the children’s Nursery as their imaginations strike up. But a promising idea to have angry young John’s moods reflect those of the story animals- is not taken very far. Underdeveloped ideas are the problem so often in this play. More So-So, I’d say.
Uncle Ruddy/Djinn/Mariner: Simon Thorp
Nanny/Musician: Sarah Groarke
Elsie: Sarah O’Leary
John: Benjamin Warren
Musician: Sarah Moody
Director: Greg Banks
Designer: Keith Baker
Lighting: Ian Scott
Composer: Tom Johnson
Costume: Annie James, Leni Hill, Christine Johnson-Marshall