THE WOLVES OF WILLOUGHBY CHASE
by Joan Aiken adapted by Russ Tunney.
Forest Forge Theatre Company and Nuffield Theatre Southampton Tour to 12 February 2011.
Runs 2hr One interval.
Review Mark Courtice 21 December at Forest Arts Centre New Milton.
Fun – whatever the time of year.
Forest Forge’s new small-scale adaptation of Joan Aiken’s children’s novel has to be much more than a Christmas show, as it is touring right up until mid-February. Happily there is no need for festive indulgence as it is a satisfying, funny and exciting night in its own right.
The story of two feisty young girls, left by doting parents to the horrid mercies of a sinister governess in an old house surrounded by a wolf-filled forest, omits no melodramatic frisson, or gruesome howling. So its perhaps not for the very young, although it’s often more funny than frightening.
The adaptation by Russ Tunney bowls the plot along at pleasing speed, and gets the balance of narration to action just about right. If the tone wobbles a bit when it gets too archly self-aware in the search for laughs, then the characters are sharply written and consistent.
Five clever actors seize on these with glee; Michael Cole takes particular pleasure in the wicked Miss Slighcarp. This isn’t a pantomime dame. He goes for more than a touch of Miss Haversham and gets the voice like “grated slugs” just right. While she is greedy and horrid, comfortingly we always know she is heading for a fall. Perhaps it’s because her slightly wobbly wig harbours a blackbird, even when her black bombazine dress has a wolf-fur tippet.
Michael Magnet, who plays a bewildering variety of cheese-obsessed baddies and impossibly credulous goodies, endows them all with character and often good nature. With our two heroines skilfully keeping the right side of impossibly goody-goody there are lots of people for young audiences to identify with as well as baddies to be scared by.
Kirstie Davis’ clever production makes good use of Helen Stewart’s sharply tilted set. There’s room for secret passages, pell-mell journeys across a frozen lake and even wolfish projections here.
With Rebecca Applin’s apt music – well-handled by the cast and Thomas Gilbey’s guitar playing – and lots of action to look at, this ingenious show makes a children’s favourite live on. Fun – whatever the time of year.
Miss Slighcarp: Michael Cole.
Connie Green: Clare Fraenkel.
Simon: Thomas Gilbey.
Mr Grimshaw: Michael Magnet.
Sylvia Green: Julie Rose Smith.
Director: Kirstie Davis.
Designer: Helen Stewart.
Composer: Rebecca Applin.