Within minutes of being in the theatre my daughter looked at the set of The Enormous Turnip and said ‘I’ve seen this on telly’. My heart sank a bit, I felt sad that television was such a reference point, and I wondered if she would be comparing it to the TV version.
I needn’t have worried, Stuff and Nonsense provided something television tries increasingly hard to emulate, but can never compete with. Human Interaction. Seconds after my daughter’s announcement a real live Mrs Chickweed came wading through the auditorium demanding to know the whereabouts of her husband. We had seen him dancing round the foyer, playing his accordian and L launched into an animated discussion about this with Mrs Chickweed.
This set the tone of the show, which relies heavily on direct address, putting the audience in role as the ‘neighbours’ whom Mr and Mrs Chickweed talk to from their garden on stage. The actors ask the audience for their opinions and help throughout, nodding very gently to the conventions of pantomime without letting cliché run away with what is a beautiful and gently told reworking of the classic fairy tale. At the end of the play I found myself holding hands with the man sat next to me, I won’t give away why, but I will say as an audience we made something enormous happen. You don’t get that sense of collective experience and achievement watching television.
The Enormous Turnip manages to simultaneously address adults and children, firing comic references for both audiences, something I haven’t seen done so much in children’s theatre, but a technique that works so wonderfully in Pixar animations. Here it’s down to the way the performer’s time physical and verbal comedy coupled with the way the original story is deepened to explore the couple’s feelings about retirement, the past, the future and their relationship. It’s the second piece I have seen that focusses on grandparents and gardening, I saw Sunflowers and Sheds last year (it’s touring again and back at Lakeside here) but it seems to be a theme that young children love to explore.
The use of puppets add a lovely dimension, we particularly loved the singing cabbages. There are a couple of scene changes where the more restless members of the audience might have benefited from a swifter pace, but they were worth waiting for in terms of the magic the set created.
It was the perfect thing for a very rainy Sunday afternoon. And my daughter’s final verdict? She shouted really loud in complete disbelief across the theatre:
‘Wow! That’s the biggest turnip evaaaah!’
If you want to catch Stuff and Nonsense see their tour dates here.
For actor/audience participation check out Kindur the adventurous life of an Icelandic sheep, for 5-8 year olds. Children follow Kidnur through the dramatic landscapes and myths of Iceland using digital imagery. Kindur is part of the Jump In Children’s Theatre and Dance Festival in May/June.
Tonight I am off to see The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist with Minibreak Mummy.
Disclosure – I am blogger in residence at Lakeside Arts Centre, this is a review.