The Just So Stories
Red Table Theatre
Pleasance Theatre, Islington
No one is credited with this adaptation if the Just So Stories and in fact it sticks pretty closely to Kipling's text of the five tales that have been selected for this dramatised storytelling, complete with sung versions of the verses that end each story. Narration leads easily into dialogue, the tellers often becoming the animals they introduce.
It is set amongst an attic-like collection of furniture and steamer trunks and household bric-à-brac that is sometimes turned into a creature or represents the ocean. Sometimes a performer presents a small hand-held head to identify their character, like Freya Parson's dog; sometimes they depend entirely upon characterising with their own faces - Emma Connell with bared teeth and wide eyes becomes especially equine (very different from her clever cat) - but it takes the whole company plus red umbrellas and a couple of lamp-like flowers held high as eyes on stalks to give Clare Ashton's huge basso crab a body.
Helen Victor welcomes the audience and settles them in, with the littlest children invited on to a huge 'snuggle pit' of duvets and cushions at the very front that is complete with soft toys for them to cuddle. When, as the Eldest Magician, she starts to tell the first story, about the making of the world and every creature being given the kind of 'play' they are supposed to play, she makes the character a bossy schoolmarm but things soon settle into a more comfortable style so that, except for one babe in arms who appropriately started wailing just when it fitted with the story, this company held their carpet of tots riveted.
From Man in the Moon to bat, long-armed baboon, crocodile, compliant cow, elephant and whale to djinn and first man (Andrew Keay) and wife (Charlotte King), everyone is busy energetically doubling and contributing to the ensemble. Some roles are inhabited more successfully than others. There is sometimes a little self-conscious 'acting' going on but I especially liked Charlotte King's camel, silent except for her 'Humphs' but speaking through her body.
These stories - how the elephant got his trunk, the camel her hump, the crab his claws, the whale his baleen, the reason for the tides and the domestication of dog, horse and cow while the cat still 'walks by himself and all places are alike to him' - are full of long words and strange sounding names but that didn't phase the audience and there is plenty of the repetition that very young children love. I had to rush away but as I left the theatre the cast were happily chatting with their audience both sides seemed to be having a good time.
Until 25th April 2011 (11.30 am and 1.30 pm, no performances 11th. 18th, 19th or 24th April).
Reviewer: Howard Loxton