Moominsummer Madness (Polka Theatre)
The Moomin's takeover of the Polka Theatre proves enthralling for children and adults alike
Instead of writing my review I've been doodling Moomins for the last few hours. They are, it should be said, highly doodleable: cute, expressive and thankfully very hard to get wrong – a single generous line for the snout, a single generous line for the belly, a pair of small, pricked ears, a pair of large worried eyes, and a Moomin soon comes alive on the page.
They're simple, somewhat indefinable (part hippo, part pig, part polar bear) and strangely memorable. Though it's fair to say I've now discovered they're even better live. In fact, seeing these charming and enigmatic creatures in person has been a rare and delightful treat, for which no art can play substitute…
This year is the centenary of the birth of the Moomins' idiosyncratic creator Tove Jansson, and their rare foray onto the London stage at the Polka Theatre is in her honour. In the guise of rod puppets (beautifully designed by the Little Angel Theatre's Lyndie Wright) the Moomins here generously guide a quartet of accompanying human puppeteers through the story of the great flood of Moominvalley - a terrible inconvenience that almost led to the catastrophe of a missed breakfast.
Understanding their audience (adults of all ages) the Moomins have chosen a story full of appropriate adventure - swimming Moomins, a play within a play, even a pair of confused beavers dressed as a pantomime lion - before sprinkling the show with a little stardust in the form of Ben Glasstone's witty songs. Laura McEwen's gorgeous and versatile set, and a thoughtful, attractive programme are equally emblematic of a production in which every detail has been carefully weighed. The only surprise is that the producers have somehow resisted the temptation to name their show The Book of Moomin; but then, by nature, Moomins are quite modest.
Puppet theatre is of course not only popular with children: it's much loved by academics too. It's arguably the purest form of theatre since it continuously critiques its own artifice in the act of storytelling, as the puppeteers move between the roles of performers and ‘unseen mechanics' (here the faultless cast of Nick Ash, Ruth Calkin, Claire Harvey and Lori Hopkins also seamlessly switch vocal parts). It's a world to which the Moomins - as creatures stranded between species, neither human nor animal; or rather both at once - are curiously well suited. Throw in Moominpappa's self-referential dramaturgy and there's enough material to sate even the most ardent post-structuralist.
Any production that can manage that, while also enthralling well over a hundred four to eight year olds on a hot Saturday afternoon is, as far as I'm concerned, an absolute winner. Gorgeous.
Moominsummer Madness runs at the Polka Theatre until 16 August 2014