Faeries, Royal Opera House, London
Wednesday 15 December 2010
In Will Tuckett's family show, the faeries are the puppets of Blind Summit Theatre, with delicate wild faces and slender or cuddly limbs. When they were carried through the foyer afterwards, children came crowding up to watch.
The story takes place in wartime London. Johnny and his sister, Beattie, orphaned in the Blitz, are to be evacuated to different farms. Femi Oyewole's brisk Johnny runs away and spends the night in Kensington Gardens, where he meets faeries and has adventures.
Rebecca Lenkiewicz's script is heavy-handed, earnestly spelling out Johnny's sorrows or – through the faeries – the beauties of nature. Like the children in the audience, I had a better time when the faeries were being naughty, or going about their magical business.
Michael Vale's evocative designs suggest a London skyline and Martin Ward's score, played live, sets the tone with chattering keyboard and clarinet. Performers twist and turn within the small performing space, adding a few skipping dance steps.
The strongest performances come from the onstage puppeteers, dressed in 1940s costumes and giving lively line readings. Fireflies are handheld torches, joined by dragonflies with fluttering wings.
Designed by Nick Barnes, the faerie puppets are cleverly varied. Anak, Johnny's faerie friend, is tiny and precise, with careful hands lifting her feet for every step. Drone, a wise old faerie, lives in a house full of treasures – shelves brightly lit, packed with toys, bright fragments, ships in bottles.
The wicked faerie Dolour has long, long limbs, partly because they and his head are carried by different puppeteers. His face can pop up unexpectedly while his body lurks elsewehere. One of his servants is played by the actor Stuart Angell, but with extra hands and tail – which sometimes wanders off, and has to be called sharply back to its owner.
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