Marvin's Binoculars

Justin Audibert
Unicorn Theatre in partnership with the Guardian
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Safiyya Ingar as Sita and Shaka Kalakoh as Marvin Credit: Unicorn Theatre
Chukwuma Omambala as Dad, Shaka Kalakoh as Marvin and Ayesha Antoine as Mum Credit: Unicorn Theatre
Safiyya Ingar as Sita and Shaka Kalakoh as Marvin Credit: Unicorn Theatre
Sophie Stanton as Park Warden and Shaka Kalakoh as Marvin Credit: Unicorn Theatre

Marvin misses his grandma who has recently died. She used to take him to the parks and woodlands where they could watch birds and explore the wildlife in ponds. It was she who has turned him into a nearly nine-year-old naturalist.

Now, on his birthday, he has a wonderful surprise that she planned for him: together with his mum and dad, they had saved up to buy him binoculars, really good ones. Nan, lying in her hospital bed, had even written a message inside their case: “To my very own Nature Boy Marvin—All my love, Nanny A.”

When Marvin and his schoolmate Sita are given a map-making project marking their favourite place, Marvin gets his father to take them to see the places he went with his Nan. But a sudden downpour sends them rushing to dad’s car and now his prized possession is missing. They aren’t lost; someone else found them, but getting them back isn’t easy.

This isn’t a complicated story but it is beautifully tailored for the 6- to 10-year-olds it is aimed at with Shaka Kalakoh and Safiyya Ingar playing Marvin and Sita not as grown-ups see them but just as children of that age imagine themselves.

Writer-director Justin Audibert gets very real performances from his actors, but they are given a consciously theatrical setting. Designer Sam Wyer’s drawn scenery is like the sketches Marvin makes in his notebook while stylized drawn rain slashes across the live image in Todd MacDonald's and Phil Cooper's filming.

With Ayesha Antoine and Chukwuma Omambala as Marvin’s parents and Sophie Stanton as a martinet wildlife warden who poses a problem in reclaiming his binoculars to add drama, this is a delightful 45-minute play that will stimulate interest in nature as well as please youngsters already exploring wildlife. Grown-ups will love it too.

While this presentation is streaming online, a live version directed by Hanna Quigley is currently touring London schools and later this year Marvin’s Binoculars will have a full staging at the Unicorn Theatre, but see this version first—and for free too.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton