Christmas at the Sherman Theatre has become a family tradition since we moved back to South Wales. With growing popularity for productions creating inner magic for young audiences, last year I learned the hard way that magic doesn’t just happen. Grown-ups have to plan a bit and buy tickets early. So for this year’s production of The Borrowers I followed the advice of the Box Office, booking tickets well in advance for our Christmas treat.When I recieved an invite to press night the temptation of a sneak peek was too strong. I rationalised I could assess the suitability for my 5 year-olds.
Pondering on my review, I decided it would be worthwhile to see the production through the eyes of children who don’t have theatre embedded in their lives as much as mine.
My daughter was over the moon to invite two of her Year 3 classmates along. Whilst I was slightly fraught with five children for tea, by the time I left the Sherman I walked with the three 7 year-olds, all on cloud nine.
I have no doubt the boys will love this production judging by the reactions of children throughout the audience.
The adaptation of Mary Norton’s The Borrowers is a wonderful choice by the Sherman complementing everything it does well in production. The creation of a world of miniature running alongside the world as we know it is beautifully brought to stage by Hayley Grindle. It did dawn on me that the 7yos probably wouldn’t know what a thimble is, but that aside nothing was lost on these girls. From the split staging, to the complete disbelief of the chair arriving for Homily and the gasp at the size of the boot. There was such a variety of techniques used to good effect including puppets and film animation. I have to say I love- appreciated or absorbed as magic- such variety being used to showcase theatre at its best.
Always a hit for me is the onstage band, this year the integration seemed smoother than ever. The girls were quite smart with this, spotting Spiller and Pod playing instruments. Really showing to CM that her piano lessons will pay off in her current aspiration of becoming an actor!
But to the story, of Pod and Homilly, and their daughter Arrietty. The Clock family, Borrowers living alongside human beans, animals and insects. We’re not sure if Borrowers live today, Ellie-Mae and Emmy think perhaps they live in their homes, CM and I agree no Borrower could be sane living alongside our dogs and cats, especially Chase.
The girls were enthralled with Arrietty. In this, alongside the introduction of themes of kindness and inclusivity, Amy Leach’s subtle direction brought out each character delicately, cleverly interwoven. Arrietty is a girl with such big hopes and dreams, to experience life beyond her boundaries. Kezrena James brought a carefully balanced feistiness to the character, such determination balanced with love and appreciation of her family.
The girls were open-mouthed by Arrietty’s bravery as she explored and met the boy, they were aghast at the thought that the quite scary Mrs Driver might catch the Borrowers. And loved Crampfurl’s defiance of stamping boots (and oh the joy of the dust landing on Pod and Homily).
We bravely left the theatre in the interval. We wanted to make sure Arrietty and her family were ok after Crampfurl smoked them out. Joe’s ice-cream seemed to offer some necessary reassurance.
The second half of the performance seemed to have a lot more humour. Perhaps this was because of relief that the Clock family had survived. As we watched them explore the outside world there was relief of the confirmation of other Borrowers. And we loved Spiller, especially for his dirty face and courage.It was the absolute show-stealing Cricket which confirmed we had moved from being mesmerised by the magic to involved in the humour. Huw Blainey’s characterisation of the Boy, the Cricket and Uncle Hendreary were absolutely spot-on. For me, the absolute laugh-out-loud moment was the response to being called a beetle, for the girls it was the ‘fa-la-la-la-la’.
We think we most loved Arrietty, and oh the look of disbelief at the suggestion we might stay at the theatre a little longer to meet the actor who played her. But we really did love the Cricket too so it seemed it was essential we got to meet him too. I love this about the girls- a desire for humour and single-mindedness.
Reflecting on the production, there wasn’t a character on the stage I didn’t love. Each played such importance in bringing the story together, both thematically and theatrically.
Magic it seems can’t be created by one element, it is the bringing together which creates the necessary chemistry- Dom Coyote’s wonderfully integrated use of music and variety of instruments, Amy Leach gentle persuasion of themes, Hayley Grindle’s beautifully contrasting set, each of the creative team, and a wonderfully talented cast (and band) of actors. It seems to even imagine removing one element would break the magic so wonderfully created for the enjoyment of all ages, but especially 7 yos who if not talking about favourite moments are competing for the loudest “fa-la-la-la-la”‘s. Now to see if I can persuade them to add ‘in tune’ to their consideration.
The Borrowers is at the Sherman Theatre until 31st December 2016. Tickets are available from the website or on 029 2064 6900.
Disclosure: I was invited to the performance of The Borrowers for the purpose of this review. All words and opinions contained are my own.