THE SNAIL AND THE WHALE
adapted by Tall Stories from the picture book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler.
St James Theatre 12 Palace Street SW1E 5JA To 5 January 2014.
11am 30, 31 Dec, 3-5 Jan
1.30pm 4 Jan.
2pm 30 Dec, 2, 3, 5 Jan.
Runs 1hr No interval.
TICKETS: 0844 264 2140.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 28 December.
Happy show with a slow undertow of seriousness.
Two companies with a fine track-record in touring theatre for young children have latched on to the popularity, storytelling power and colour of Julia Donaldson’s picture-books: Scamp Theatre and, in this case, Tall Stories. Both are names worth watching-out for, for both combine high production values with sensitivity to young people and imaginative theatricality in storytelling.
Perhaps, for the very young, the tip-up seating of a West End theatre like the St James can be tough-going and restrictingly formal. Still, the venue helps prevent theatre for the young being kept in specialist ghettoes, while its steep rake helps with clear views.
Tall Stories’ skilful adaptation tells of events which leap in time as well as space in a living-room. If there’s a sense of loss in mum’s unexplained absence, it’s covered by the happily playful relation between Dad and Daughters, he so tall he could seem like a whale to a young girl who’s a little creature, with model snails as decorations and a comfort toy. Whenever Dad’s not looking, Daughter slips away in a household almost permanently playing hide-and-seek.
Perhaps Patrick Bridgeman oversells the loving father in the constant smiles and laughing voice. But increasingly the story becomes the point. The imagination that delights in revisiting a favourite tale, the creation of a whale from room furniture – helped by some cunning design details from Isla Shaw – and the energy that goes into the telling; the idea joint storytelling creates a closer human bond.
When Dad, a sailor, has to go to sea his recording of the snail and whale’s story, sent back home, is a comfort to the girl. Rhiannon Wallace’s childlike eagerness is underscored, like much of the action, by Richard Heacock’s music, played, with considerable technique, on a viola by Ellen Chivers.
With her moments involved in the action, the final instruction from abroad from Dad to Daughter to practise, as the Daughter picks up another viola from the wall, identifies the women as one character at different ages, the music – like the story – a memory of happy days after Dad has left on his final voyage.
Whale/Dad: Patrick Bridgman.
Narrator/Viola: Ellen Chivers.
Snail/Daughter: Rhiannon Wallace.
Director: Toby Mitchell.
Designer: Isla Shaw.
Lighting: James Whiteside.
Composer: Richard Heacock.