The question begins a nursery rhyme first written down in 1801, but probably far older, and the whole rhyme forms part of the folklore tradition that underpins the novel Stardust, by Neil Gaiman, the film adaptation starring Claire Danes and Robert de Niro, and Russ Tunney’s enchanting stage adaptation for Forest Forge Theatre Company, which had its premiere at the village hall in Cranborne this evening. Having been captivated by Tunney’s adaptation of Anne of Green Gables for the same company last year, and being a fan of the film Stardust, I was ready to be enveloped by the fantasy world of Faerie, lost in the village of Wall, and transported to the kingdom of Stormhold: I was not disappointed.
Tristran Storm sets out from the village of Wall to seek a fallen star as a challenge to gain the hand in marriage of his childhood sweetheart. There are others seeking the same star, for different, and far darker, reasons: a witch who needs it to regain youth and two princes who need a jewelled necklace worn by the star to inherit the throne of their kingdom.
Rebecca Applin’s original music and songs have delightful, lyrical melodies and beautiful words, including one in French, with the use of the folk song She Move Through the Fair reconnecting us with the same tradition as the Babylon rhyme, and just four actors bring this story to life, playing many parts each, using accents, costume, puppets, gloves, and their many talents to ensure we believe in them all as different people, with clever use of off-stage speaking and recordings to help maintain the illusion.
All four are extremely skilled at their art; moving, acting and singing powerfully, topped by the beautifully sweet, clear, accurate soprano of Alana Armstrong, playing the fallen star heroine Yvaine one minute, and the very macho Primus of Stormhold the next. The role of narrator is mainly carried by Michael Cole as Mister Bromius, resident of Wall, who also brings his excellent comic timing to Madame Semele, also known as Ditchwater Sal, and Septimus of Stormhold. Zachary Powell shows great emotion as the weakling boy who turns into handsome hero Tristran, whilst also playing his father in flashback and the dying King of Stormhold. Stacey Evans, so memorable in Anne of Green Gables last year, particularly with her Sugar Plum Fairy dance, plays at least six parts in an acting tour de force, including the not-so-sweet village girl Victoria, the glamorous witch queen who gradually ages without the heart of the star to keep her young, a small hairy puppet called Charmed, a very helpful tree, and the chained Faerie girl who, in a classic fairy tale twist, turns out to be someone completely different.
This was an evening of enchanting entertainment, with a driving narrative, strong characters, good and bad, plenty of humour, a woodland-painted set which unfolded in many different ways, clever use of projection, which even got a laugh at the beginning with a nod to Star Wars, and music, gently underscoring most of the show, and backing the songs which heightened the climactic moments. It was great to see people of all ages in the audience, from pre-school to retired, and we were all mesmerised by this slick and confident telling of a magical tale. It continues its tour throughout the region until the end of January when it reaches the Lighthouse in Poole, although I hope it has a much longer life than that: in the words of the Take That song written for the 2007 film, this production really could Rule the World.
Photographs Lucy Sewil
The tour continues at Greyfriars in Ringwood on Saturday 6th December, Broadchalke (11th and 12th), Brockenhurst (13th), Ibsley (16th), Corfe Castle (19th), Corsham (20th, 22nd and 23rd) and West Tytherley on Wednesday 24th December. The tour starts again in the New Year on Saturday 3rd January at Downton, continuing to Fordingbridge (9th), Mickelmersh (10th), Gussage All Saints (12th), Toller Porcorum (14th), Lymington (15th), Totton (20th), West Lulworth (23rd), New Milton (27th), Southampton (28th) and ending at Poole’s Lighthouse on Saturday 31st January. For more information, visit the Forest Forge website. For Artsreach dates, all starting at 7.30, telephone: Cranborne on 01725 517883, Corfe Castle on 01929 480483, Toller Porcorum on 01300 320373 or West Lulworth on 01929 400790, or visit the Artsreach website, www.artsreach.co.uk