AFTER the success of Hansel and Gretel last year, Bumblefly in collaboration with Forest Forge have been touring the region, bringing, as their publicity tells us, storytelling, magic and a splash of mischief, to their take on one of my favourite stories, The Elves and the Shoemaker.
David Haworth’s adaptation of the Brothers Grimm story is mixed with more than a few other tales as well – Prince Charming, the Wicked Witch of the West and Puss in Boots amongst others put in an appearance – and there are delightful self-contained dramatizations of two rather less well known stories, The Stonecutter (a charming Japanese folktale not unlike the Brothers Grimm’s Fisherman and His Wife) and The Brave Little Tailor, another from Grimm, which I well remember from my childhood learning-to-read days as Seven With One Blow.
The Elves and the Shoemaker is good, honest family entertainment, and, from the word go, we were enthralled. It had innocence and charm, there were a few naughty bits for the children, a bit of audience participation, some enchanting special effects and it was seriously funny too – whacky just wasn’t the word!
The story had its moral dimension of course – the importance of kindness, generosity, optimism and hard work to list just a few, as well as being careful of what you might wish for as wishes can come true – as they did for the poor stonecutter. But none of this weighed the production down, which was as up-beat and heart-warming as one could possibly wish; a show that really did “reach out to the sole of the community” as the programme tells us.
The company of three, Dom Phillips, Clive Holland and Anna Harriott, worked their socks off (or perhaps I should say boots off) to give us a good time. With such a small ensemble, all three played numerous roles and dealt effortlessly with the technical side of things. We loved the rapport they had both between themselves and with their audience, the quick costume changes and the “deliberate” mistakes that were made, the frequent bursts of lively song – some of it in harmony too, (the music was specially composed by David Calais), the clever bits of word play (I particularly liked the “glassmanship” of Prince Charming’s slipper) and the opportunities for audience participation – the dancing shoes, the emperor (he of the “new clothes”) and the business with the water pistol come immediately to mind, not forgetting the jolly audience participation song with its feel-good “sun shiny, shoe shining day” refrain.
To the delight of both the adults and the children in the audience, the elves were portrayed in a number of different ways including the use of two or three different sets of puppets. For me, however, the most magical was when simple cut-outs were silhouetted against the shop window, something that brought back happy memories of those enchanting Lotte Reiniger animations that were shown on the BBC in the 1950s and 60s.
David Haworth is to be congratulated on directing and designing such an inventive, energetic and altogether engaging production. It tours until 27th January and is perfect entertainment for a winter’s evening. Catch it if you can.