by Dick King-Smith adapted by Daniel Jamieson.
Theatre Alibi Tour to 5 May 2012.
Runs 1hr 40min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 29 February.
Show set far from the madding crowd deserves big audiences.
This is Exeter-based Theatre Alibi’s second outing, following a 2006 début, with Daniel Jamieson’s stage version, for 8+, of Dick King-Smith’s warm-hearted novel about a foundling reared on a West Country farm whose slow mental development is contrasted with a love for all animal life.
Nicknamed ‘Spider’ from his nimble capering on all-fours in early childhood, he’s rejected by school – Nikki Sved’s production has a kindly-enough teacher seated across the raised platform stage from the lad, as if remote across a massive desk – and baited by other children, but adults soon appreciate his qualities.
Spider calms recalcitrant horses and shares his lunch with a local fox. Persuaded to work in the fields scaring crows, he’s desolate when his dog kills a hare, and having lost his first fox friend to the local hunt, protects a second, making peace with a pack of baying hounds (symbolised as painted figures on a cloth that rushes over him).
The story’s set against wider human cruelty, opening in a Great War aftermath of injury and bereavement, while later scenes show Spider happy in his innocence during the Second World War. Sadness, though, pervades the action, along with fears for his future. The mix of happy times and troubles is modulated by Thomas Johnson’s score, within events, across time-leaps and in the story’s overall atmosphere, the mood-shifts often enforced by Marcus Bartlett’s lighting.
It could have been merely cute, rather than acute in impact. But Alibi have a long tradition of telling stories with calm, taking time, respecting each aspect of the narrative. Sved and Jamieson gain audience trust and empathy, never sensationalising or sentimentalising. Animals included; Derek Frood, with long sticks creating a recalcitrant horse, Cerianne Roberts as the pet lapping-up Spider’s affection or disapproval. Or a puppet fox fascinated by Spider’s gaze.
Malcolm Hamilton makes his keen-eyed Spider believable in his guileless sympathy towards creatures great and small, in a performance that’s the unselfish centre of a fine company. And the poignant end achieves, some miles west of Wessex, the consolatory fusion of human fate and Nature’s persistence found in Thomas Hardy.
Tom Sparrow: Michael Wagg.
Kathie Sparrow: Jordan Whyte.
Percy Pound: Derek Frood.
Spider Sparrow: Malcolm Hamilton.
Mrs Yorke: Cerianne Roberts.
Director: Nikki Sved.
Designers: Trina Bramman. Stuart Nunn.
Lighting: Marcus Bartlett.
Composer/Musical Director: Thomas Johnson.
Puppets: Trina Bramman, Jenny Saunt.