The Crowstarver is not one of Dick King-Smith’s more famous works and, in many ways, it is a surprising choice for any company to seek to adapt it. However Theatre Alibi have done an outstanding job at combining music, puppetry, physical theatre and a range of other story-telling devices to deliver a charming and moving piece of work.
I will admit that the title of the piece does little to really invite audiences into the world of the play. The story is a simple one – tracing the life of a foundling child growing up on a farm in Wiltshire during the early years of the Second World War. Although he is hampered by a number of physical and developmental challenges, he has an affinity with animals that astounds the adults in his life. His role on the farm starts as being a living scare-crow (thus starving the crows) but soon develops as his skills are more appreciated by those who had previously dismissed him.
As engaging as the production is, it does not seem to quite know what audience it is seeking to attract. The short running time (under 100 minutes) and theatrical techniques would indicate that it ought to be aimed primarily at young audiences however the subject matter might prove too emotionally challenging for those at the lower end of the age range. Similarly there is not enough ‘meat’ for adult audiences to really get their teeth into – even with all the elements that there are to admire about the cast, the musicians and production as a whole.
I am not ashamed to say that I cried at the end of the show – it really does tug at the heart-strings. But it was not a fully satisfying piece of theatre for an adult audience and not, perhaps, appropriate for children of all ages.
Falling between two stools is an uncomfortable place to be and I fear that is where this production has found itself. Lovers of theatre and story-telling will find many wonders to enjoy as the action unfolds but may leave a little short-changed at the end of the evening.