Shackleton, Tall Tree Theatre, Artsreach tour

SOMETIMES you come across a show that is perfect. It is very rare, but Tall Tree’s debut production, Shackleton, which had three half-term dates with Artsreach, is a little treasure.

It is a tale of a dog, but it’s not a shaggy dog story. It’s a story of a dog who wants adventure and a quiet man who doesn’t want to venture further than his front gate. It’s all about finding out what’s out there and discovering who you used to be.

And what makes it extra special is that it is based on a real dog in a real rural village in the Wylye valley north of Salisbury. Anna Harriott, who is the principal puppeteer, describes her meeting with the original Shackleton and his family on their website.

Shackleton lives with his owner, Mr Middle, in a house with a garden near fields and a bridge over a stream. In the distance there are trees, more fields, a town … and who knows what adventures?

But each day follows the same pattern – they get up, Mr Middle reads his paper, Shackleton wants a walk, Mr Middle says he must go no further than the bridge, they go back home and Shackleton has his dinner. But one day, the garden gate is not properly closed …

With music by Harry Emerson, who plays Mr Middle, a wonderful lifesize Shackleton and Anna Harriott as the voice of Shackleton and other characters, this debut show is hugely enjoyable for children and their parents (and adults of all ages).

From the craft table available for children as the audience comes in to the way the performers are there on the flat floor performance space (with no barrier for younger children); from the clever use of repetition, each time taking the story and the characters on a little further to the way Anna brings Shackleton round to meet individual members of the audience, the play involves the children, excites them and delights them.

It has already had a successful tour with Rural Arts Wiltshire and now with Artsreach – we look forward to (hopefully) a return visit for Tall Tree with Shackleton, and to the company’s future productions.


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