by Christopher William Hill.
Unicorn Theatre (Weston Theatre) 147 Tooley Street SE1 2HZ To 28 April 2013.
11am 18, 25 Apr.
2pm 6, 7, 9-14, 20, 21, 27, 28 Apr.
7pm 6, 11, 13, 16-20, 23-27 Apr.
Audio-described 14 Apr.
Captioned 13 Apr 2pm.
Post-show Discussion 27 Apr 2pm.
Runs 1hr 55min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7645 0560.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 4 April.
In all, weird but quite wonderful.
Apart from exercise, a benefit of climbing three flights of stairs rather than taking the lift to the Unicorn’s Weston auditorium is viewing the display including newspaper articles from 1964, when Caryl Jenner established, at the Arts Theatre, the company which now inhabits its own building in Tooley Street. Comparing photos of early shows with the dark world of Matthew Lenton’s production, for 8+, of Christopher William Hill’s play indicates how the vocabulary of children’s theatre has developed in almost a half-century – visual invention is key to Lenton’s work with his Scottish-based company Vanishing Point.
And how much more young audiences can be expected to accept, while harking back to the time when frightening children seemed a moral adult purpose – Shock-Headed Peter syndrome.
Not that Struwwelpeter is directly called-upon as the danger of imagination in the wrong heads becomes clear. Young Conrad, isolated at home with a stressed mother and a father with detached academic manner, invents a tiger in his bedroom wardrobe. Just as it seems it’d only need a witch for the C S Lewis estate to claim copyright, things take a turn for the complicated, as his parents try to calm Conrad by inventing Mr Holgado to take the tiger away.
Soon the invented man, in whom impressionable Conrad believes, becomes the threat in the wardrobe. To explain Holgado away is more difficult. When Conrad’s father, a sober-mannered student of entomology, disguises himself as Holgado all becomes truly sinister, especially after a bout of concussion hits-in.
Kai Fischer provides a dark-chocolate suite of rooms, doors inhabited by giant beetle-eyed windows, while Sandy Grierson gives a fine double-act, as the dry Scottish father, transforming into Holgado with leering eyes and threatening smile around English accents that switch between politeness to Conrad’s Mother and gloating threat to the boy – suggesting a buried fury at his son, something picked up in the final moment where Holgado and entomology merge.
Cath Whitefield fusses effectively as the well-intentioned mother, while Daniel Naffady as a Conrad often confined within pajamas still asserts his own fantasy world in proto-Oedipal competition with his dad.
Father: Sandy Grierson.
Conrad: Daniel Naddafy.
Mother: Cath Whitefield.
Director: Matthew Lenton.
Designer/Lighting/Costume: Kai Fischer.
Sound/Composer: Mark Melville.