This reviewer confesses total ignorance of the work of Anne Fine, the author of The Book of the Banshee. It is a confession mixed with some embarrassment since Ms Fine is apparently highly regarded as a children's writer and the recipient of numerous awards. Mea Culpa.
This stage adaptation by Tina Williams is a somewhat hit-and-miss affair, although the kid-packed auditorium seemed to love it. The piece concerns the angst-ridden life of the Flowers family, a nuclear unit which is on the point of imploding.
Will Flowers, the 14 year-old, socially concerned, sensitive, and somewhat precocious son, is the centrepiece of the drama. He immerses himself in the memoirs of a First World War Rupert Brooke-alike and decides to write his own memoir based on the mud and bullets of the kitchen battlefield, while at the same time trying to deal with his 13-year-old sister Estelle (the Banshee of the title), who's waging her own teen war against parental authority. Will is also put upon by his all-too-busy parents (father owns a garage, mother is a lawyer) to look after his mute four-year-old sister.
The success of theatre for children is always dependent on the avoidance of talking down to them or being patronising. In this, The Book of the Banshee does not always succeed. Will's predilection for drawing analogies between the Great War and his own family skirmishes is expressed in lecturing, hectoring and formal style. Quite unlike the forms of speech used by any 14-year-olds this reviewer has ever encountered. The school scenes work best, with amusing and easily identifiable teacher and pupil parodies, while the moments of family discord strike a familiar and not unamusing chord.
Some of the performances in The Book of the Banshee are also problematic. Adults playing children can work well (eg Blood Brothers or Harry Enfield's Kevin), but actors who aren't that much older than their characters tend to fare less well.
Terry Barton who plays Will in a somewhat po-faced manner, frankly, just hasn't given enough time or thought to playing to age. Matt Carpenter, who is Will's brain-dead friend Chopper, and Joanna Burnett (Estelle) are much better. The rest of the company are competent, if not entirely convincing, as parents, teachers and school friends, but special mention must be made of Abbey Norman (as four-year-old Muffy) who gives a dream performance in a near speechless part.
This is a slight evening which provides some light amusement, particularly for adolescents or those on the verge of pubescence, but the rest of us are left wondering about the point of the exercise. Kevin and Perry it ain't!
- Stephen Gilchrist (reviewed at Guildford's Yvonne Arnaud Theatre