Those cute tiny people are back! After thrilling children the world over at bedtimes, exciting them on TV and thrilling them at the cinema - Watershed productions invite you to spend an evening looking underneath the floorboards at The Borrowers' minute but detailed lives.
Can Mary Morton's 1950's tale still appeal to children and adults alike on stage in 2002? Well, the children amongst the audience on the night this reviewer attended certainly seemed excited, although a late start after technical problems did not endear the play to them immediately.
As the tale of the little people unfolds, it becomes clear that this is a small perfectly formed production, though there's a danger of it being swamped in larger venues like The Lowry, more suited to big-budget, Disney-esque extravaganza.
The story remains intact. The Borrowers live under the floorboards in harmony. There's Pod (Nicholas Collett) the brave father, Homily (Susan Jeffery) the home loving mother, and Arietty (Denise Hoey) the fearless young daughter who longs to borrow as she is growing up fast. Up above this cosy existence, inquisitive 'giant' minds threaten to uncover the secret lives of the little folk and force them to move onto pastures new.
The sweet-natured essence of this classic tale translates well to the stage but only in spades. In Chris Wallis' production, the sound seems out of sync with the action at times - something noticed and noted by the youngsters in the audience too - while the use of actors as the giants shielded by a curtain separating them from The Borrowers fails to convey the true sense of the piece. Many of the children in the audience just don't get it until well into Act II; a Tom and Jerry approach, ie not seeing the adults but only their huge boots and legs, might have worked better.
That said, the individual performances are all convincing and very appealing. The puppetry and Judith Croft's multi-functional set also lend a sense of magic to proceedings and go down a storm with the audience - as an adult, the reaction from the stalls is a delicious reminder of how wonderful it must be to see theatre through a child's eyes. From the tiny puppets to the variety of animals that the Borrowers encounter on their travels, each item is well imagined.
But ultimately this stage at least is too big and impersonal for Charles Way's adaptation, and it fails to ooze the warmth that you would expect. As a result, the cast appear lost and at times uncertain. Perhaps other venues further along in the production's touring schedule will be kinder.
Overall, worth watching but don't have BIG expectations as I did.
- Glenn Meads (reviewed at The Lowry in Salford)