Mervyn Peake, music composed by Mhairi Grealis and James Boston
The Blue Elephant Theatre
In the face of Mervyn Peake's many and varied artistic achievements, his endeavours as a playwright probably come rather low down on the list. In this centenary year The Blue Elephant Theatre is staging his only play for children, Noah's Ark, which is their second Peake premiere and another well-deserved feather in the theatre's cap; its first was The Cave, which was produced in 2010 and was the first of several Peake events to mark his birth.
This Noah's Ark is a re-working rather than a re-telling of the Old Testament story. It has a young boy dream himself back in time, becoming the right-hand man to Noah who is mocked for having had a vision of a flood coming to his desert home and Boy is the only one who believes him.
The wickedness of mankind and the destruction to be wreaked in this cleansing of the earth are played down for a young audience, the original story is shortened and secularised and the rainbow is a celebratory recognition of a clear sky ahead rather than a heavy-going covenant from God never again to destroy the earth.
Peake has taken the Noah story and made it a vehicle for a different moral message which lurks beneath the fun and frolics of this colourful show. There is mutiny brewing aboard the Ark when supplies run low and Vulture wants to take over from the humans; Boy tries to warn Captain Noah of the dissent but Noah doesn’t return the Boy's faith in him by believing in what he says. Instead Noah mistakenly puts his faith in vain and foolish Lion trusting in his kingly status which causes trouble all round before everything turns out alright in the end.
These themes of loyalty and faith are lost on the young ones who are busy being engaged by the energetic delivery of the hardworking cast who play instruments and take on human and animal roles. Barry McStay makes for a funny, strutting Cock and limp Lion awed by Adam Langstaff's comically subversive Vulture. Claire Sharpe's harp playing gives a classy touch to the jolly musical accompaniment when she is not clucking about as mumsy Mrs Hen.
Director Mhairi Grealis, movement director David Ralph and choreographer Lisette Foster have the ensemble emerge from boxes, dance over the seats and pop out above the audience in this busy staging which lights up many young faces. Mike Lees's bright and clown-like costumes are eye-catching and work well as part human clothes and part animal form, with some especially good headwear too.
For adults Noah's Ark is insubstantial fair with the thoughtful points Peake included being hinted at but buried under the jolly larking about which makes this show imaginative and enthusiastic good fun for the children.
Noah's Ark plays until 20 December.
Suitable for age 7 and over. Runs 1 hour 15 minutes without an interval
Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti