Perô or the Mysteries of the Night

Guus Ponsioen, adapted from Michel Tournier's Pierrot ou les Secrets de la Nuit
Speeltheater Holland
Unicorn Theatre

Production photo

A version of the old commedia plot of Pierrot in love with Columbine who is stolen away by Arlecchino, this is the story of baker Perô and laundry lady Columbina who live in two white houses in an Italian village and have known each other since they were ever so tiny and everyone thought would eventually get married. Except that now Columbina washes and irons all day and Perô bakes all night so they never get a chance to see each other. Then along comes house painter Paletino, dazzling Columbina with his bright colours and his chat up lines. Paletino takes Columbina away into the countryside and she puts up a sign to say she has gone away. Perô is devastated and closes shop to with a sign saying 'Due to Lovesickness.'

It is presented by the Sun and the Moon, who have their own developing relationship and are played by two musicians, Annemarie Maas and Guus Ponsioen (who also composed the music). They tell and sing the story, and two actor-puppeteers, Inez de Bruijn and Tim Velraeds, control and play the characters which are represented by doll-like puppets that are hand held.

The baker's home and the laundress's house are two obelisk-like structures with zigzagging steps leading up to them. We can see action through their windows, or the whole fronts open up to see what is going on inside. Later when Columbina has gone away, a big black box comes on and opens up to reveal rolling hills and a stream where fish swim, ducks dabble, frogs hop, birds fly and sheep wander across the hillside, all in miniature puppet form, while the two people canoodle beside the water.

But this Arcadia doesn't last. The painter is very demanding. He wants spaghetti, then macaroni, then lasagne. Columbina has soon had enough and runs off, but she finds her self alone in the dark and lost. That is when a little mouse, which we have already seen leaving Columbina's house, where there is nothing left to eat except washing powder (ugh!) to move over to the baker's, picks up her distress and goes out to find her, then alerts Perô to find her in a snow storm and bring her back. Soon we have a happy ending.

It is tuneful and charming, presented with great brio and considerable humour. It is played in English and the performers have excellent English with only a trace of an accent, but some of the sung dialogue was not always easy to follow. However, the flamboyance of the playing held a young audience's attention and the main story was easy to follow, though I think some elements of the rivalry between sun and moon may have failed to come over.

There is a naïve playfulness, especially about the way in which the mice in the bakery are presented, which chimes well with the smaller children but while parents will enjoy it I felt children nearing teenage might be a bit patronising about it, though they could still enjoy it.

Last year, when this production was presented in the United States, it was given the Victor Award for excellence in performing arts for young people.

For ages 6+
At Unicorn Theatre until 12th October

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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