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Review: The Borrowers (Sherman Theatre)

Cardiff's Sherman Theatre stages Charles Way's adaptation of the classic book for Christmas

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

After a historic year that saw a London transfer in the form of Iphigenia in Splott and deserved national recognition, Sherman Theatre ends 2016 with its annual Christmas show. The Borrowers may seem like an unlikely choice for the season, but this uplifting production, based on the classic children's tale, is both festive in tone and in line with the theatre's ethos to bring communities together.

Charles Way's adaptation of Mary Norton's book follows the lives of the Clocks, a family of Borrowers living under the floorboards of a stately home. Teenage daughter Arrietty longs to experience the outside world but, after being seen by a friendly human boy, her wish comes true in the worst possible way. Soon they are fending for themselves in the wild, trying to find their place in a world they don't understand.

Above all else, The Borrowers is a technical triumph. It's impossible not to marvel at Hayley Grindle's beautiful set design, especially in the use of giant matchsticks and dollhouse accessories to create the Borrowers' home and the boot that they live in during the second act. Projections and puppets are used to get around the problem of tiny people interacting with humans – director Amy Leach's efforts to make that work are commendable, if not entirely successful.

Other than those tricky moments, Leach's directorial decisions are spot-on. The use of live music adds to the feeling of magic already permeating through the production, while James Whiteside's lighting design – particularly in the second act – is both understated and wondrous. Where Leach really excels is her direction of the actors and how they move about the space. Daisies become skipping ropes and tiny scissors become life-saving weapons. There is a slight lull towards the end of the first act, but that momentum quickly returns in the second.

The actors are clearly having a good time in this giant playground, and that joy is reflected in their performances. Kezrena James is a joy to watch as Arrietty – she has the burden of being the audience's eyes and ears, and rises to the challenge in a passionate performance. Cait Davis also shines as the prim-and-proper mother, but its Keiron Self who steals the show with a gleefully funny turn as father Pod. Self has the audience in the palm of his hands from the moment he first appears on stage, and that bond never falters. The supporting cast is also strong, particularly a Huw Blainey cameo in the second act that has the entire auditorium in rapturous applause and laughter.

At its heart, The Borrowers is about people from different walks of life living together in harmony and appreciating the world for what it is. It's a gentle and heartwarming allegory on the real world that resonates with children and adults alike, and ensures that Sherman Theatre's year ends on a high.

The Borrowers runs at the Sherman Theatre until 31 December 2016.

Watch our video in rehearsals with The Borrowers