Septimus Bean and His Amazing Machine

Based on the book by Janet Quin-Harkin, adapted by Adam Peck

Unicorn Theatre (Clore Theatre)

From 20 May 2016 to 26 June 2016

Review by Howard Loxton

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Extraordinarily simple, blissfully funny and less than an hour long, Septimus Bean and His Amazing Machine is beautifully matched to its target audience of four years old and upwards.

It is the story of an inventor, Septimus, who makes a machine he’s so proud of he wants to show it to the King. So here were are in the Royal Palace.

Designer Verity Quinn has given us the royal picture gallery, full of paintings that the grown-ups will recognize as by Botticelli, Leonardo, Holbein, Munch, van Gogh, Picasso, Dali and Warhol (all somewhat transmogrified) and full-length portraits of what could be the Royal Pair themselves. It certainly looks very grand with two twinkling chandeliers that switch on and off when the King clicks his fingers.

When Septimus comes on, pushing his magnificent invention before him—it is obviously very big and heavy—he’s having to use a great deal of effort, but what is it? For one thing it is invisible, the King nearly bumps into it, but he agrees that it’s long and it’s high, it's got wheels and a bell—but what is it for and what’s through that door?

The Queen says there’s nothing there, but Septimus Bean goes on inventing and brings another and another machine—ones you can see. Each time, the scene plays out again, with almost identical rhyming dialogue, the repetition youngsters love.

One time it’s tiny (a royal disaster); another you just know one bit is going to burst and watch with anxious anticipation; music from one gets everyone dancing, but when version nine appears through preceding smoke clouds, Septimus does seem to have made something special—but…

Design, Harry Blake’s sound and Richard Williamson’s lighting all help to escalate the effect of each new creation but it is the bold playing of the actors that makes Cressida Brown’s lively production so perfect: Terence Frish’s King, big eyes expressive of constant surprises, Llewella Gideon’s Queen, frilly knickers showing, flopping down on the floor and Fionn Gill as the inventor.

Mr Gill just has to be there to put us all on his side; he’s able to establish an immediate rapport with his young audience in his yellow wellies. He even looks as though he’s just been drawn by Quentin Blake straight out of a story and his expressions and (yes, sometimes) convulsions are fabulously funny.

Septimus Bean and his Amazing Machine is delightfully simple and simply delightful.