WINNIE AND WILBUR
The REP, Birmingham, Wednesday 5th April, 2017
The popular series of children’s books comes to the stage in this exuberant adaptation by writer Mike Kenny who captures the essential fun of author Valerie Thomas’s original while weaving in his own theatrical magic along the way.
Winnie is a witch who lives alone with her black cat Wilbur (a puppet expressively operated by Ben Thompson). She is surrounded by other cast members who appear as other characters, as narrators, and as ‘invisible’ forces that carry out her magic spells, and so Winnie’s ‘flap-top’ flies to her lap, for example. The devices are both simple and sophisticated, employing slow-motion and physical comedy to hilarious and inventive effect. A ride on a broomstick, Winnie’s bicycle, and a disappearing act are all carried off imaginatively to our surprise and delight. Director Liam Steel works his cast hard; the attention to detail and the timing are both impeccable in this larger-than-life, cartoon of a show.
Rachael Canning’s design takes its lead from Korky Paul’s illustrations, adding to the show’s authenticity as an adaptation.
Leading the piece in the role of Winnie is Sophie Russell, in a charming and hilarious portrayal. Winnie may be a grown woman but she wears her emotions on her sleeve in an endearingly childlike manner. Consistently funny, Russell is a joy to watch.
She is supported by an equally skilled ensemble. Rob Castell provides musical accompaniment onstage as well as appearing as Uncle Owen and, funniest, Winnie’s sister Wendy. Anne Odeke is a hoot as Aunty Alice, threatening Uncle Owen with dire consequences when she gets him home. Ed Thorpe amuses as Winnie’s supposed nemesis, Cousin Cuthbert and Maimuna Memon adds to the fun as sister Wilma. The cast only leave the stage for quick costume changes. The jokes are rapid fire, the songs (by Marc Teitler) are tuneful pastiches with witty lyrics, and it all adds up to a magical event that is never short of amusing and often laugh-out-loud funny.
Wonderful silly fun for children and adults alike – and it’s interesting to see you don’t need innuendo or grown-up gags to keep parents and childless reviewers like me engaged, enchanted and entertained.
I have definitely fallen under Winnie’s spell.
Sophie Russell and Ben Thompson (Photo: Graeme Braidwood)
Leave a comment | tags: Anne Odeke, Ben Thompson, Ed Thorpe, Korky Paul, Liam Steel, Maimuna Memon, Marc Teitler, Mike Kenny, Rachael Canning, review, Rob Castell, Sophie Russell, The REP Birmingham, Valerie Thomas, Winnie and Wilbur | posted in Theatre Review
TOM’S MIDNIGHT GARDEN
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 15th April, 2014-04-16
One of the best books I’ve ever read is the classic novel by Philippa Pearce and so I approached this David Wood adaptation with excitement and trepidation. Would the stage version capture the charm, wonder and emotive power of the original?
The answer is an unqualified YES.
Young Tom (David Tute) goes to stay with his aunt and uncle while his brother recovers from the measles. Virtually quarantined, Tom is bored and isolated until one night the grandfather clock in the grand house where his aunt and uncle rent a flat, strikes thirteen. Tom learns this is a signal for an enchanted time in which he is able to sneak out of the house and into a garden which no longer exists. There he meets Hatty (Caitlin Thorburn) who treats him like an imaginary friend or even a ghost. The plot gets all timey-wimey as it passes at different speeds for the two children but the action is kept clear by a tight script, that uses elements of narrative theatre to spark our imaginations with what isn’t shown on stage. Wood cleverly uses the device of Tom’s postcards home to his brother to reveal the character’s inner thoughts and feelings.
As Tom and Hatty, Tute and Thorburn are captivating. The cast is rich with strong character actors doubling their roles. Helen Ryan is perfectly horrid as Hatty’s evil aunt Grace, and daunting landlady Mrs Bartholomew. Tom Jude is good fun as Uncle Alan and brings atmosphere as superstitious gardener Abel. Ed Thorpe contrasts his roles of brother Peter and cousin Edgar very effectively.
Director Neal Foster makes the most of Jacqueline Trousdale’s flexible set, on which the actors use mime and minimal props to conjure the bygone age so that we see it clearly in our mind’s eye. It’s a spellbinding piece of storytelling aided by Jak Poore’s sweet and plaintive music, played live by cast members on and off stage.
Above all, the story is king. It’s a tale of friendship and growing up and mortality that touches us all, made here into an enchanting and moving superior piece of theatre.
Leave a comment | tags: Belgrade Theatre Coventry, Caitlin Thorburn, David Tute, David Wood, Ed Thorpe, Helen Ryan, Jacqueline Trousdale, Jak Poore, Neal Foster, Philippa Pearce, review, theatre review, Tom Jude, Tom's Midnight Garden | posted in Theatre Review