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The Magic Fishbone (Ipswich, Christchurch Mansion)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
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It’s heartening to find so many shows this year that have a festive feel but aren’t simply recycled chestnuts from the panto genre. In the case of The Magic Fishbone, Joanna Carrick has adapted a charming – if largely unknown – short work by Charles Dickens into a delightful piece that will enchant all ages, despite being a children’s story.

Alicia spends most of her time in the attic, where she lives out her daydreams away from her useless father, perpetually sick mother, and eighteen younger siblings. She comes by a magic fishbone that has the power to grant her one wish, but only when the time is right or else the act might bring about her doom. However, thanks to some very clever puppetry devised by longtime Red Rose Chain associate artist Jimmy Grimes, the fishbone (named Clyde because of his strong Scottish lilt) is as much a member of the cast as his human counterparts.

Anna Doolan’s Alicia is beautifully crafted, both vulnerable and feisty in turns. While Doolan stays pretty much in the same character while those around her swap at breakneck pace, this engaging young actress is one to watch for.

Joel Johnson picks up her father, King Watkins (heading for debtors’ prison in the same way that Dickens’ own father did), as well as lusty fishmonger Mr Mackerel, Clyde, Mother, and Mackerel’s savage hound with consummate ease and is a joy to watch on stage.

The final (breathing) member of the cast is Scott Ellis, who again takes on numerous roles, including vinegar-tongued cook Mrs Flancrust, the good fairy Grandmarina, and Alicia’s love-interest, Percy Pickles, beautifully. All three actors have handsome singing voices, but it is perhaps Johnson who has a more operatic quality that stands out.

In The Magic Fishbone, Carrick has created a simply staged yet flawless piece of theatre that is a refreshing interruption from the usual Christmastime fare, and one which is performed exquisitely. Highly recommended.

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