This playful production of Rudyard Kipling’s children’s stories gave us our first five star review (below).
Cast: Callum Battersby, Clarisse Loughrey, Daniel Morton, Emma Brooks, Flora Denman, Franziska Kraushaar, George Collins, Georgia Scarr, Henrietta Fforde-Lutter, Josh Fforde-Lutter, Karin Brooker, Katie Wheeler, Keira Leigh Elford, Lola Wingrove, Millie Poulson, Sarah Sheriff, Tom Clarke,
Star rating: **
Aesop’s Fables, Assembly Rooms
Star rating: ****
Just So, Quaker Meeting House
Star rating: *****
What do Martin Amis, Rudyard Kipling and Aesop have in common? All have written stories adapted into plays for children on the Fringe, none of which would originally have been deemed entirely kid-friendly.
Jackajack, based on a short story by Amis and performed by TuckedIn Productions, is firstly a story about a girl and her lost puppy. Described as “warped children’s theatre,” it instead feels more like a discursive nightmare no child would ever wish to imagine. Set in a post-apocalyptic world beset with strange creatures and humans in long leather jackets, the story follows the puppet beagle Jackajack as he navigates “this new world of nightmares” back to his mistress Lucille. Never has a puppy story seemed so grim, nor a bare setting so rife with menace. Shadowy puppet players lurk about to manoeuvre Jackajack and other puppet-y creatures, while grimly attired humans take turns at populating the wasteland and voicing the narration.
There’s humour, with surprising light moments breaking up all the doom, gloom and prophesy-speak, but all else is deadly serious, and the play suffers for it. The simple structure of the adventure story is complicated rather than complimented by TuckedIn’s telling of it, and kids would not be wrong to avoid this Amis adaptation.
Happily, children do not have to completely forgo literary lions in order to get the better of the festival. Scamp and Bristol Old Vic have brilliantly staged the rather dark and foreboding moralising of Aesop into a highly inventive, quickly paced and expertly choreographed burst of theatre with Aesop’s Fables. Beginning with a medley of the morals, the actors are wheeled on stage on a platform, from which they spring into their stories. Adeptly accompanied by a multi-talented musician/actor (Benji Bower), actors Chris Bianchi and Tom Wainwright launch into a whimsical accounting of boys who cry wolf, fair-weather friends, beleaguered donkeys and hares and tortoises. The transitions between stories are efficiently and artfully done, the characters fully realised and alive, and the singing full-on and masterful.
Equally accomplished is the rendering of Kipling’s Just So stories by Newbury Youth Theatre. There was an automated unity to the rather large cast that added to the smooth, kinetic energy between stories, with each actor dressed simply, but memorably, in navy stripes and tights. Where animals needed to be represented they were done so with overcoats, large dresses and aquatic goggles.
Musical accompaniment was provided by a young, goofy, Tom Waits-like musician, and the whole production of Just So made digestible for children by its sense of playful fun and imagination.