For every child at the Rose today,
there’s an adult, maybe two, accompanying them. It comes as no surprise. Eric
Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar became the picture book
of a generation when first published in 1969 – and then another generation
and another, as fans of the friendly red and green larva with the famously prodigious
appetite read it to their children and grandchildren in turn.
Now, the Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia has brought over director-designer Jim Morrow’s acclaimed stage
version as part of a trio of Carle favourites, including Little Cloud
and The Mixed-Up Chameleon. Morrow’s is a faithful yet
imaginative reworking, boasting a simple storyboard set that replicates beautifully the
rich colours of the original illustrations and ‘black light’ puppets that float
weightlessly across the stage, accompanied by a jaunty jazz score.
At the start of the show, we’re
told this is a ‘no shushing’ performance, with young theatregoers encouraged to
join in whenever they know the story – which is always. It makes for a nice, relaxed atmosphere
but means the American narration is lost at times and with it, audience
attention. I suspect the show
will work better in a smaller theatre than the Rose, with fewer children but
everyone closer to the action.
Carle’s narratives are as linear as the hungry caterpillar himself and there are moments when this feels more like watching animation
than live performance. That said, Morrow’s puppet creatures move along like magic even when the story doesn’t and fans of the book
will leave with their fond memories safely but subtly enhanced.