Rebecca Lenkiewicz, direction & choreography by Will Tuckett
Puppetry by Blind Summit Theatre
Linbury Studio Theatre Royal Opera House
Yet another dance production set in the Blitz (the other being Matthew Bourne's Cinderella) with barrage balloons and St. Paul's silhouetted against the sky. This time it is children being evacuated from Paddington Station. Orphaned brother and sister, thirteen-year-old Johnny and seven-year-old Beattie, are being cruelly sent their separate ways.
Johnny runs away and gets locked in Kensington Gardens at night, the bewitching time, when faeries come out to play, except this time good and evil are fighting for dominion in the Arthur Rackham-esque faerie kingdom.
Evil faerie Dolour wants eternal life. He has to find the golden coffin, which will give him immortality. And Johnny is just the one to help him, as his two bodyguards, Gluck and Frippery, are none too bright. Simple clumsy Gluck, or Schmuck as he is called, with detachable tail and claws on head, was stolen at birth and doesn't know what a birthday is... so he's not too bad, just neglected
Johnny meets tiny 270-year-old Anak with torn wings, a feisty bald little faerie, who looks like a sweet version of Gollum (in a frock) from Lord of the Rings. She takes Johnny to old cockney-voiced Drone, wise and good, if a little portly and stiff.
Anak is captured; then Johnny is captured. Drone fights Dolour and wins, surprisingly. Dolour is dead. Anak and Johnny are rescued. Drone almost dies, but Anak's faerie tears bring him back to life. 'Blow upon a faerie's tears, it will take away your fears'. Anak does like a good funeral, though. And yes, faeries do die - they become stars in the sky.
Gluck has his first ever birthday party with fairy cakes and candle, Beattie and Johnny are reunited, and the golden coffin was in Drone's home all the time - he'd been using it as a table.
As a Christmas show for six plus Faeries is rather morbid, and a trifle laboured and long at eighty minutes no interval. Rebecca Lenkiewicz's script is death-fixated. Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings have a lot to answer for!
The puppets are gothic grotesque, especially the creepy Dolour with his repellent sticky-shiny black ant's body, long spindly legs, and detachable head, which multiplies into three dismembered heads.
Puppetry by Blind Summit Theatre, who created the dog in Complicité's A Dog's Heart and Butterfly's son in Anthony Minghella's Madame Butterfly at the Coliseum amongst many other successful shows, is superb, but then they have form. The actor-dancers and puppet handlers, eight-strong, dressed in forties utilitarian outfits, are excellent.
The lighting by Katherine Williams is atmospheric, as is Martin Ward's music and John Owens's sound design. Michael Vale's simple set of gnarled trees, garden hut and bench, is effective. The fireflies and dragonflies are delightful, and Drone's little home under the floorboards is full of glitter and gold. But, what a dark tale for the festive season
After the show, the puppeteers showed off the puppets in the foyer, and they really are works of art. But Rebecca Lenkiewicz's clever rhyming couplets with occasional attempts at humour fell flat with me. I am a great one for suspending disbelief in the blink of an eye, but her odd Faeries never got me off the ground into the land of Make-Believe.
Plain-speaking Anak's 'what comes in to the world must go out of the world' must send shivers down children's spine and pop anxiety into their heads. Hope no one has nightmares. The only consolation is that the words were not always audible, drowned out for much of the time by the amplified sound effects and music.
Till 2nd January 2011
Reviewer: Vera Liber