devised by the company.

Royal & Derngate (Underground) Guildhall Road NN1 1DP To 10 January 2015.
10am & 1.30pm 5-9 Jan (schools only).
11am & 2pm 28-31 Dec, 2-4, 10 Jan.
Runs 1hr No interval.

TICKETS: 01604 624811.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 24 December.

Magic rather than mishap.
Northampton’s Royal & Derngate has a threefold policy come the Christmas season. The large Derngate, built to house popular touring shows, has a pantomime with well-known performers, while the Royal, a smaller repertory theatre, has for some years presented a play where story rather than cast brings the familiarity. And these plays have brought a spin-off, a piece for under-5s.

Newcastle-under-Lyme’s New Vic does much the same with its ‘Tale Trails’ based on the main-house play, performed in their studio, while Northampton uses part of its downstairs suite of Underground rooms. As in Staffordshire’s shows, the Northampton pieces used to move audiences between several locations in the same or adjacent rooms.

But with last year’s Wind in the Willows’-related Along the Riverbank, and this year’s piece based on Ella Hickson’s Merlin everyone stays seated in one place, mainly on cushions spread around the room. It allows a more complex environment; a reedy rurality where Merlin meets a gender-reassigned Arthur (it’s a rule of these two-handers there should be one female, one male actor).

The piece mirrors Hickson’s play in dealing with the characters’ early careers, each on a quest that helps them prove (or ‘find’) themselves. It’s also important the young audience be given, gently, an active role in achieving the purpose; young spectators can use colour-coded feathers lying around to help Merlin prove himself by bearing the ardours of being tickled or having a group approach stealthily and surprise him with a close-up shout.

Then there’s the necessary dragon, its birth being audibly predicted as the audience notices the egg Merlin carries around growing in size (with some artful substitutions along the way). Martha, meanwhile, is helped in her own preordained tasks by audience encouragement.

There are several songs, with the actors playing guitar and flute. It’s all part of the magical mystery quest which never flags and always involves young audiences in a sympathetic way, acknowledging their presence and valuing their contributions, thanks to Dani Parr’s experienced direction of such work and the performances, well-pitched in song and relation to young people, of Tamsin Fessey and Michael Imison.

Merlin: Michael Imison.
Martha: Tamsin Fessey.

Director: Dani Parr.
Designer: Kate Bunce.
Composer: Steven Vitale.
Dragon puppet: Nick Ash.
Assistant director: Hazel Barnes.

2014-12-28 10:30:53

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