The Girl With No Heart, The Warren, Brighton Fringe

  • @alicevjones

Have the galloping, whinnying heroes of War Horse inspired a new generation of theatre-makers? It would seem so. The Girl with No Heart from Sparkle and Dark, a promising young company which formed in 2009, is not so much a puppet show as a puppet masterclass. Over the course of 75 minutes, four performers (plus a guitarist and cellist who provide a plangent soundtrack from the side of the stage) conjure up characters, creatures and countries using papier-mache masks, cardboard boxes, sheets of paper and shadows.

The show is inspired by accounts of the young victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. "You've heard our story before. You've seen the cloud unfurl like a monstrous thing", booms an elderly figure at the start, but it is a story that demands retelling. Here we see it through the eyes of children, damaged physically and mentally by a war they can neither understand nor escape. 

One such child was Sadaka Sasaki, who became a figurehead for victims of the atomic bomb when she folded 1,000 origami crane birds in a gesture of hope as she lay dying of leukaemia. Her monument stands today in Hiroshima Peace Park.

Here, she becomes the Girl with No Heart or Samura, a gutsy girl in a rainbow skirt and walking boots. Abandoning her life in the land of plenty, she arrives in a land of ash where butterflies crumble into dust on touch, where walls and people are flimsy like paper and where the sinister marching footsteps of the Adult Army are never far away. Faced with horror, she seeks comfort in storytelling and make-believe.

This is a spare and stylish show. On a cloth backdrop and a stage of dusty scrolls, the young quartet, dressed in neutral costumes and beige peaked caps to cover their faces, bring to life a cast of children and old men, origami birds and falling blossom. Louisa Ashton is particularly touching as Ike, the young boy who helps Samura on her journey.

The frequent flights of fancy are not always easy to follow but Sparkle and Dark's storytelling has class and power. The show is recommended for children over 8 years old but there is magic here to appeal to all ages.

To 6 May (01273 917 272;