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Tales from the River Thames

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Tales from the River Thames is a collaboration between the Unicorn Theatre, a theatre for young people located in South London, and New International Encounter (NIE). They started off with 600 stories from school children based on the River Thames, and wove them together into a tale of the river, ocean, pirates and mermaids.

The play is successful for the most part. Set in the tunnels under London Bridge, the interactive performance leads children from set to set through a lock keeper's cottage to an old style tavern and onto a beach. This ensures that they are enthralled throughout and it's a very clever use of what appears to be an unusable space. The acting all through the play is the right side of melodramatic to make it into a sort of pantomime that keeps young audiences interested. The facial expressions and physical comedy of the actors bring these characters from children’s imaginations to life. Because the stories were written by school aged children, the tales are quite simple but yet very entertaining.

Towards the end of the play everything begins to fall apart though. Whilst it's a patchwork of different stories, they seem to fit together into a coherent tale of a young boy lost at sea who becomes a pirate and then goes on a quest to find out where he came from. Then, inexplicably, the audience is divided into groups and sent off for a little story that has nothing to do with anything that has come before. Whilst I appreciate the need to incorporate as many of the children’s tales into the narrative as possible, it jars with the flow of the story and interrupts the magic and imagination that had been building in the young audience. It also makes the play too long (one hour and ten minutes) for children, especially considering that there is no interval.

On the whole, this is a truly interactive piece of theatre. It creates an opportunity for children to experience what is possible, both through their own imaginative storytelling that contributes to the play, and by taking them out of a conventional theatre. Tales from the River Thames illustrates how you can completely suspend your disbelief and become involved in a story in a different environment.


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