Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Puss in Boots

Robin Simpson
York Theatre Royal, TongueTied Theatre and Telling Tales
York Theatre Royal De Grey Rooms

Richard Kay, Susanna Meese, Robin Simpson and Lizzie Wiggs in Puss in Boots Credit: Nick Ansell
Lizzie Wiggs and Robin Simpson in Puss in Boots Credit: Nick Ansell
Lizzie Wiggs and Robin Simpson in Puss in Boots Credit: Nick Ansell

As with last year’s Cinderella, TongueTied Theatre has again produced a panto alternative for younger audiences, in the grand setting of the De Grey Rooms. The company brings a winning set of performances and a splendid staging.

Opening with a prolonged, wordless musical sequence performed by talented multi-instrumentalist Richard Kay, the show gradually eases audiences into a world of storytelling and theatricality.

Kay takes up a position among a plethora of instruments and bric-a-brac, all of which he tweaks, honks, hits and blows in producing some lovely musical accompaniment and sound effects for the story which unfolds.

At first, Susanna Meese makes an endearing, engaging storyteller figure, with the ensemble completed by writer-performer Robin Simpson and Lizzie Wiggs. With all the performers decked out in stripy jumpers and berets, the latter two begin as mimes enacting the story recounted by Meese.

The tale stays relatively faithful to Charles Perrault’s original and—as the costumes would suggest—the French setting is preserved, leading to some enjoyable linguistic references and games. Great use is also made of some endearing, cartoonish illustrations, with sheets of paper unfolding and fluttering through the air, manipulated imaginatively by Wiggs and Simpson.

As the story develops, though, the performers take on other roles and switch storytelling duties fluidly and with a deceptive ease which relies on the simple joys of clear communication and hand-made props.

The company’s love of simple theatricality is highlighted by Lydia Denno’s set, a faux-proscenium within the ballroom which at times itself houses a stage-within-a-stage. This model set echoes the larger one and serves as a frame for sections of the tale such as the scene-setting at the show’s beginning. The larger set also later becomes a screen for some delightful shadow-puppetry.

Wiggs excels when she takes on the role of the cat itself, effortlessly and gracefully manipulating a couple of different puppets to create the illusion of a real-life walking, talking cat. The moggy’s outing to the big city is memorably evoked, stomping feet falling all around, their footwear prompting Puss’s decision to buy his fetching green boots.

I’m not sure what the final moral is (though this is doubtless an ambiguity of the original rather than a flaw of the production)—if you lie, burgle and murder you’ll rise up the ranks? Perhaps a clearer sense of just how bad the ogre really is would help us support the talking feline a little more.

Nonetheless, all four performers (under Kyle Davies’s clear and elegant direction) are wonderfully engaging and create a magical tale which holds the audience’s attention magnificently.

The show is designated suitable for children aged 5 to 11, though some performances are listed as ‘all ages welcome’, with some slightly modified content and doors open to all the family.

It must be said, though, that at the all ages welcome performance I witnessed, the very scariest moments were greeted by the youngsters with a mixture of rapt glee and actual terror.

These occasions only arise during the climactic showdown with the ogre, and as long as mum or dad is around to comfort the youngest audience members, Puss in Boots will prove a rewarding and enthralling experience for the whole family.

Reviewer: Mark Smith