The Snail and The Whale has been a favourite bedtime story with both of my children, and so we were all very intrigued to know how this book, depicting the story of a snail who travels the world by hitching a ride on a humpback whales tail, could be transferred on to the Lowry's stage.
Tall Stories Theatre Company employ an ingenious frame story to support and compliment Julia Donaldson's original story. This frame story explores the relationship between a father (Patrick Bridgman) and his daughter (Rhiannon Wallace) and the experiences that they share together. The father is a sailor and has to go to work away at sea; his daughter is unable to go away with him and so he makes a recording of her favourite story (no prizes for guessing the title of this story) and sends it back to her.
When his daughter listens to the recording that her father has made for her, the charming core story unfolds before us. Clever set design and direction allow her bedroom to be swiftly transformed into a whale and then the deck of a ship; the lighting design sends us into an underwater shark scene and then into the throws of a thunderstorm. Finally, in a comic exchange, the audience become the class of children who must help the snail in its plight to rescue the whale.
Patrick Bridgman and Rhiannon Wallace give touching performances which deal with the love and separation from a parent - their performances show they are very skilled in engaging with a young audience. Charismatic story-teller Ellen Chivers, on her viola, provides sound effects and a catchy theme tune, which many of the children in the audience enjoyed singing along to.
The relationship between the characters in this Tall Stories production is magical and succeeds in showing us the infinite possibilities of imaginative storytelling. This is a well crafted production of a much loved childrens' tale, which appeals to those little ones making their first trip to the theatre and seasoned young theatregoers alike. For me, it was one of the best examples of children's theatre that I have seen.
The clever frame story gives Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler's original book an emotional boost. And Tall Stories' exceptional attention to detail and endearing characterisation present a show which manages to conjure up a few bubbles of warmth in even the most toughened grown-up's heart.