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The Firework-Maker's Daughter

Philip Pullman, adapted for the stage by Stephen Russell
A Lyric Hammersmith and Told By An Idiot co-production
Theatre Royal, Newcastle, and touring
(2005)

Poster for The Firework-Maker's Daughter

It's a truism but worth repeating over and over: the best children's theatre has as much to offer to adults as to children. It's certainly true of Philip Pullman's The Firework-Maker's Daughter, adapted by the always-inventive Told By An Idiot and the Lyric Hammersmith.

A mixture of some very physical work, clowning, witty dialogue and superb pyrotechnic effects, it is a joy from beginning to end. Such a shame, then, that the first night audience was one of the smallest I have seen at the Theatre Royal for a long time. It wasn't tiny, admittedly, but there were a lot of empty seats, which is such a shame, for the kids of Newcastle and the surrounding area are missing out on a real treat if they don't see this show.

Squeals of delight from the little kids, hearty guffaws from the adults, and and booing of the villain and cheering for the heroine from all sections of the audience showed just how involved everyone was in this excellent production. At about two hours, including the interval, it makes no concessions to the supposed short attention-span of young (it's aimed at age 7 up, although there were, I am sure, some younger) children - and quite right, too, for it held their attention throughout.

There are lots of clever but simple ideas - the fire which runs along a firework fuse, for example, is played by an actress (Amanda Lawrence) in a red outfit waving a piece of red tinsel - which amuse and reflect the inventiveness and physicality of the performance. There was a sense of total commitment from every member of the eleven strong cast, most of whom play two or three parts, changing costume and character in a flash. (No pun intended. Well, all right, just a little one.)

In such an ensemble piece it is invidious to pick out individuals for comment but Ayesha Antoine as Lila and Mo Zainal as Chulak pitched their performances just right and got the audience on their side right from the off. But then we should also mention Malcolm Ridley, beautifully deadpan as Hamlet the white elephant, and the hilarious Lucian Msamati as Rambashi. And then......

Those who only know Philip Pullman from the His Dark Materials trilogy (or from the RNT production) are in for something of a surprise, for this is a very different piece of work. As Pullman himself says, it's a fairy story. It runs at the Theatre Royal until Saturday 5th February, after which it goes on to Warwick Arts Centre, Oxford Playhouse and The Lowry, Salford.

David Chadderton reviewed this production at Salford

Reviewer: Peter Lathan