Faeries, Clore Studio Upstairs: Royal Opera House, London HHH

A fairy tale with strings attached
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The Independent Culture

When the gold coffin is discovered in Faeries, a group of children come up from the audience to peer inside. Will Tuckett's new show is designed for families, with fairies addressing the audience and asking for help with spells. By the time we got to the coffin, the children had been drawn right into the action.

Faeries is the latest in a series of Tuckett family shows for the Royal Opera House, including Pinocchio and Wind in the Willows. This time, Tuckett has a new story about a girl who spends a night in Kensington Gardens in wartime. The script, by playwright Rebecca Lenkiewicz, gets heavy-handed. It's lifted by the production's inventive fairy world.

Tuckett was inspired by the Edwardian illustrator Arthur Rackham, whose fairies can be ethereal or grotesque. The influence is clear in Michael Vale's set, framed by twisted trees.

The fairies themselves, puppets created by Blind Summit Theatre, range from tiny, spiky creatures to the gangling villain Dolour, whose detachable head can arrive threateningly out of nowhere. The puppeteers, dressed in 1940s costumes, visibly work their puppets, speaking their lines. Tuckett easily integrates dance, speech and puppet movement.

The heroine, Edie, played by adult dancer Charlotte Broom, is a wartime evacuee. Running away from the station, she spends a night in Kensington Gardens, where she joins a struggle between good and evil fairies. The wartime setting adds complications rather than depth.

The script is strongest when it shows fairies going about their ordinary business. Many puppets help to feed Edie, whisking cups and tea trays through the air. The running commentary of exclamations and arguments, matched with human and puppet movement, is brilliantly lively.

Martin Ward's score is story-telling music, with bouncy fairy tunes and sinister themes for Dolour. Tuckett does devise steps for his human actors, but these aren't really dance numbers. His strength is as a director, drawing together different kinds of movement to create atmosphere and character.

The fairies are beautifully detailed. Anak, a tiny fairy voiced by Mhairi Steenbock, has a pretty dress, long, inquisitive fingers and torn, injured wings. The fairy Gluck is played by actor Stuart Angell, plus extra claws and a tail that sometimes detaches itself, manipulated by the puppeteers.

'Faeries' to 19 July (020-7304 4000)