The Firework-Maker's Daughter

Philip Pullman, adapted by Stephen Russell

Quays Theatre, The Lowry, Salford

(2005)

Review by David Chadderton

The Firework-Maker's Daughter was originally a classroom play for author Philip Pullman's own pupils before it was published as a children's novel. Stephen Russell's adaptation for Told By An Idiot and the Lyric Hammersmith brings the story back to the stage in a fresh, lively, funny and imaginative production.

Pullman's story is a coming-of-age story combined with a tale of a girl trying to prove that she can make it in a traditionally male profession. Lila, the Firework-Maker's daughter of the title, wants to follow in her father's footsteps, but her father is worried that it may be dangerous for her and that it may prevent her from finding a husband. After a few adventures, she ends up having to try to win a firework-making competition in order to save her father's life.

The style is set in the opening moments when Ayesha Antoine, as Lila, appears from a trapdoor and lays out a rope as a fuse and then Amanda Lawrence, dressed in red with red tinsel on her fingers, plays the sizzling flame as it creeps along the fuse. The stage is set for a world of inventiveness in which a cushion and a sheet can become a tiger or a party popper can turn a hat into a volcano, and where an elephant can talk and fall in love (with an elephant who cannot talk but who can play the saxophone).

This is truly an ensemble production, where every performer may contribute towards telling the story at any point by playing different characters or objects. Scenes appear almost by magic using simple but imaginative physical theatre techniques performed with great skill by the actors.

Antoine is superb as the slightly bedraggled and passionately obsessed young girl of the title, supported well by Mo Zainal as her friend and confidant Chulak. Malcolm Ridley is also very good as the wise but wearily superior elephant Hamlet, and Johannes Flaschberger plays Lila's father with great sympathy. The comedy quartet has some hilarious routines led by Rambashi, played superbly by Lucian Msamati, who also leads the company in a fantastic production number that sounds like something from Five Guys Named Moe. The 'fuse', Amanda Lawrence, is also part of the quartet and particularly stands out as an extremely talented physical comedy performer.

This is a wonderful production that uses physical theatre techniques familiar in adult shows from companies such as The Right Size, Complicité and Kneehigh to create a stimulating and imaginative piece of theatre to appeal to all ages.

Peter Lathan reviewed this production at Newcastle