Michael Morpurgo, adapted by Stuart Paterson
Birmingham Stage Company
Theatre Royal, Newcastle, and touring
It really is very refreshing to sit in a theatre amongst an audience composed almost entirely of primary schoolchildren. Yes, the rattle of the sweet papers can be a bit annoying - but you even acclimatise to that after a while - but their unaffected enthusiasm is a real joy. It was thus in the tiny Town Hall Theatre in Bishop Auckland when I saw Michael Morpurgo's The Butterfly Lion in 2004 and it was the same at the almost completely full 1300-seater Theatre Royal for Kensuke's Kingdom.
My only reservation is that I suspect Kensuke's Kingdom reads better as a novel than it plays onstage. Not that there's anything wrong with Stuart Paterson's adaptation, but it clearly is an adapatation: it didn't feel that its natural place was on the stage. That apart, however, there is nothing to fault in the Birmingham Stage Company's production: acting, set, costume, lighting and sound are great. The creature costumes are terrific and Anna Drayson's Stella Artois - the dog - is a wonderful creation. Movement director Peter Elliot is to be congratulated on his work on the creatures for their behavious was totally convincing.
The audience was totally involved - even the sweet wrappers stopped their rattle - and it drew in the adults too, even the hardened critics! Morpurgo certainly knows how to press the right emotional buttons and when to lighten the mood with a joke, and he is well served by his cast and director (Greg Banks). Iain Ridley, in his first professional lead role, plays Michael, the young central character, with conviction and the developing relationship between him and Ozzie Yue as Kensuke was handled with great sensitivity by both actors. Julia Hickman (mum), Mark Carleton (dad), Anna Drayson (Stella), Hannah Burkin (grandmother) and Neil Suarez (Michiya) provide great support.
Like all the best children's writers, Morpurgo has a smuch to say to adults as to children, and they will enjoy Kensuke's Kingdom just as much.
Dabid Chadderton reviewed this production at the Lowry, Salford
Reviewer: Peter Lathan