Crowds don't get much tougher than a bunch of post-Christmas four-year-olds. With seasonal TV-induced sensory overload, tiny tots will either be in a frenzy of pre-school hysteria yelling: "Exterminate! Exterminate!" or in a silence punctuated only by an intermittent wailing from the third row. At 3.30pm on a foggy January afternoon, it was mostly the latter who came to challenge The Arches' production of Oscar Wilde's wistful salvation tale, The Selfish Giant.
The hypnotic Stewart Ennis narrated the story of the selfish giant who bans children from his garden, in a manner so understated that one felt like checking his pupils for evidence of tranquillizers.
But the puppeteers, Izzey Joss and Laura Cameron-Lewis, worked wonders with the four beautifully designed hand-puppet children, Molly, Tolly, Holly and Wally, in this version adapted and directed by Andy Arnold. As the giant, played by the aptly named Alan Tall, returns from a seven-year stint in Cornwall to turf the children out on to the street, you almost sympathise - I'm not sure I'd want grating little Wally playing in my garden either, but that's beside the point. Soon it's all walls and perpetual winter, as the Giant suffers for being so selfish, and those audience members looking for a little tartrazine in their early-years entertainment are rewarded as the neurotic laugh-chatter of Frost and Snow segues into a can't-quite-place-it folk-jazz number.
Indeed, the music, arranged by Alasdair Macrae, varies wildly in style from schmaltzy to hippyish Gypsy-folk. Jeni Campbell's design is attractive if busy, although the lighting is conversely too minimal to always match the magic Arnold is trying to create. But there are some lovely touches in a production that relies on the talents of its cast to create magic on a small budget, not least the simple but effective puppets.
The nagging problem with this adaptation is that it is weighted too much towards four specific child characters as a result of Arnold's understandable decision to excise the more deeply explicit Christian overtones of Wilde's story.
The result is a slightly uneven 55 minutes in which the appearance and reappearance of the Giant's saviour, a small boy who helps him dispel the last hint of winter from the garden, is inconsequential and therefore superfluous, with the result that the ending becomes a little hollow.Reuse content