by Alan Ayckbourn musical adaptation and lyrics by Paul James music by Cathy Shostak and Eric Angus.

Stephen Joseph Theatre (The Round) Westborough YO11 1JW To 31 August 2014.
1.30pm 14 Aug.
2.30pm 12, 16, 20, 23, 26, 30 Aug.
3pm 17, 31 Aug.
7pm 28 Aug.
7.30pm 11, 13, 16, 19, 20, 22, 23, 25, 26, 29, 30 Aug.
Audio-described 23 Aug 2.30pm.
Captioned 22 Aug.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.

TICKETS: 01723 370541.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 8 August.

Added music adds little to a comically dramatic adventure.
This is a pleasant adaptation of the 1998 play for young people and their families, in which Alan Aykbourn celebrated the Year of the Book. Young Kevin (now, as then, played by a youthful-looking adult female) keenly reads on despite parental warnings about damaging his sight through reading at night. Then, suddenly, the balance of reality and fantasy changes.

Kevin in so much into the book – the latest Rockfist Slim adventure – that he’s tipped out of bed and into Rockfist’s reality. Which is a dangerous place to be, what with the glamorously malevolent Monique on the curvacious prowl. A number of adventures ensue, some taking Rockfist out of his comfort zone into adventures with which Kevin’s more familiar.

There’s the dangerous world of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped – the only actual novel in the story – whose characters and intentions well-read Kevin knows. And, just when tensions might be piled so high they’d topple, the uncontrollable narrative veers toward his young sister’s picture books, introducing the Wubbly family.

Ayckbourn is practised in making the seemingly innocent sinister in their single-minded determination (consider the young people’s play Invisible Friends). Still, the furry-clad giant Wubblies aren’t all that bad, though as inflexible in their behaviour as any characters in a book for the very young, where subtlety of motivation and consequent changes in behaviour aren’t what’s wanted.

It’s a quality the playwright has investigated repeatedly, but here there’s more fun than menace. What remains puzzling is why the fine comedy should be turned into a musical. The music itself is pleasant but hardly distinctive, and while it adds (as musical underscoring often does at the end of Ayckbourn’s productions of his plays) to the feelgood end, for much of the time it’s merely decorative, slowing-down the inventive pace.

Still, if it’s what you like, you’ll doubtless like it well enough. And the piece itself remains a joy, still touched by the deft directorial hand of its author. Performances have strongly-outlined directness – you don’t have to wait to distinguish virtue from the much more frequently encountered villainy. But I’d still choose the original myself.

Kevin: Evelyn Hoskins.
Rockfist Slim: Nicolas Colicos.
Monique/Mummy Wubbly: Katie Birtill.
White Pawn/White Queen/Jennet/Baby Wubbly: Natasha J Barnes.
Red Bishop/Gran-Wolf/Narrator: John Barr.
Red Gareth/Rumpelstiltskin/Ebenezer/Daddy Wubbly: Stephen Matthews.

Director: Alan Ayckbourn.
Designer: Michael Holt.
Lighting: Jason Taylor.
Musical Arranger/Musical Director: Mark Warman.
Choreographer: Sheila Carter.

2014-08-11 15:41:49

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