by Annie Siddons based on the tale by E T A Hoffmann.

Unicorn Theatre (Weston auditorium) 147 Tooley Street SE1 2HZ To 4 January 2015.
28, 30, 31 Dec, 2-4 Jan 2pm.
Runs 2hr One interval.

TICKETS: 020 7645 0560.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 23 December.

A tough choice handled with some success.
Around the time the Grimm brothers were collecting their Germanic tales, Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann wrote this fantasy as one of his stories for young people. It bears the hallmarks of a Prussian mind: condescending towards the young, who are to be guided and instructed, mixing sentimentality (a land of sweets) and cruelty in its ugly, deformed and militaristic characters.

It’s also intractable as storytelling on stage. The first half is the ‘present tense’ action and has to be the focus. Yet most of Hoffmann’s second half is a ‘prequel’ explaining what we’ve seen, before shooting-off to a kingdom of sweets where not much happens apart from – inevitably – yet another battle between evil mice attackers and the virtuous homeland forces.

Sandy Grierson brings a sense of ferocity to Hoffmann, not least through vocalising, through a megaphone, the huge black mice which invade the children’s home – Annie Siddons does not hide the frightening element in her adaptation.

She does, though, shape it to a clearer, linear narrative (word has it that cutting about half-an-hour from the original length has helped further), though the relation between the battle-strewn conflicts, present and past, and the transition in time can still confuse.

James Button’s set creates a puritanically plain wooden house structure with a massive trap-door which thuds open as the large puppet mice appear, eyes lit-up in the threatening black faces that form a Mouse King, an ancestor of hydra-headed creatures from outer space. Its three-storey plainness, with the children lying in the attic, not allowed down till called, sets a repressive atmosphere from the start. That’s relieved when onstage curtains finally part, revealing the highly-coloured land of sweets. It’s only briefly seen because there’s not a lot to do there.

And it might be childhood imagination. Hoffmann has a modern edge in his ambiguity over what happens and what is dreamed by young Marie, Akiya Henry’s earnest energy making the character sympathetic, and lively, propelling events along. Any dreaming is necessary release, but also shows cruelty and fear welling-up inside her. A tough, brave choice managed with some success.

Mama/Mouserink: Naomi Ackie.
Fritz: Alex Austin.
Drosselmeier: Colin Michael Carmichael.
Nutcracker: Ashley Gerlach.
Hoffmann: Sandy Grierson.
Marie: Akiya Henry.
Gretchen/Queen: Kristin Hutchinson.
King: Asif Khan.
Ensemble: Julia Innocenti.

Director: Ellen McDougall.
Designer/Costume: James Button.
Lighting: Andy Purves.
Sound/Composer/Musical Director: Marc Teitler.
Puppets: Max Humphries.
Movement: Wilkie Brabson.
Fight director: Alison de Burgh.

2014-12-27 17:01:05

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