Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Hare and Tortoise

Brendan Murray
Tutti Frutti and York Theatre Royal
York Theatre Royal
(2011)

Hare and Tortoise production photo

Tutti Frutti have a growing reputation for excellent quality, physically and musically imaginative children's theatre, and this latest production, Hare and Tortoise, is another fine show to introduce young children to an exciting theatrical world.

From the opening, we empathise with Hare (Barnaby Southgate) as he tries impatiently to rouse the at-first barely visible Tortoise (Luisa Guerreiro) from her hibernation. When at last spring arrives and she wakes up, it becomes clear that the two are firm friends, despite their differences. Southgate is bounding, lanky, and scruffily energetic, while Guerreiro's awakening sets the pace for Tortoise, rubbing her eyes and slowly peering out into the new year.

Both performers are superlative in their physicality and singing, with their height differentials exploited to comic and theatrical effect, along with the vast contrast in their characters' tempos. Guerreiro has a superbly expressive face which yawns and stretches with each new interjection from Southgate's impatient, loveable Hare.

Like a drowsy parent on a Sunday morning, Tortoise responds to Hare's demands to go racing, with a steady "maybe later". Infuriated, but taken instead on a series of adventures through the seasons, Hare almost doesn't notice the passing of time, which in any case cannot pass quickly enough for him.

As in previous shows Visiting Grandad and When We Lived in Uncle's Hat, the music, composed by Dom Sales, is wonderful, and skilfully performed by the pair of performers, particularly multi-instrumentalist Southgate. Judith Cloke's lighting conjures the passing seasons magically, as does Catherine Chapman's delightful, playful set. Wendy Harris's direction is again simple and effective, with gorgeous touches such as the puppetry of falling leaves and the final transformation of the set as winter comes again.

It must be noted that this is a show advertised as "for children aged 3+", and whereas previous Tutti Frutti productions have provided different levels of themes for younger and older children to explore, those older than around seven may find this show a little too simplistic. For younger audience members, though, this is a fantastic introduction to live theatre. The script and direction do well to weave a pair of loveable characters out of the originally one-dimensional lesson of the fable. The original theme is expanded with some lovely messages gently conveyed - the play does not preach. This Hare and Tortoise are above all friends, and over the course of the 50-minute show the over-excitable Hare learns not only that slow and steady wins the race, but that stopping to look slowly at the world can reap rewards that are lost if you wish your life away.

Reviewer: Mark Smith