The Story Garden

Carl Grose, based on three stories by Hans Christian Andersen
State of Play in association with Theatre Mee Mee
Buddle Arts Centre, Wallsend, North Tyneside

Gary Cordingley (left) and Arran Hawkins

Sitting on a step (albeit one covered with fabric), surrounded by a whole junior school of kids in a slightly chilly arts centre is not how I would normally choose to spend the Tuesday before Christmas, but how could I possibly not join in Hans Christian Andersen's 200th anniversary? Carl Grose (perhaps best known for his work with Kneehigh Theatre) has created a one-hour kids' show from three of Andersen's classic stories - The Emperor's New Clothes, The Real Princess and The Steadfast Tin Soldier - and has done it with just two actors and a musician, which was presented at the Buddle by State of Play.

Marvin and Clint Swindlepinch are two crooks. Having been thrown out of the house by their mum for fighting, they decide to make a living from crime, from swindling and pinching - what else? After some time they meet and tell each other about their spectacular ... failures! For they are disastrously bad crooks. Marvin's great failure was an attempt to con the Emperor out of lots of money for invisible clothes and all Clint gets out of his attempt to convince the Prince that he is a true Princess (come on! it is a fairy story!) is a pea.

Two actors (Arran Hawkins as Marvin and Gary Cordingley as Clint) act out their stories, playing all the parts and watched over by the Man in the Moon (musician Andi Milne) who sits high above the performance area in - what else but the moon?

Having exposed their failures to each other, they fall to arguing over what had caused their mother to throw them out in the first case, which leads to the story of the Tin Soldier. During all of this we see imaginative use of all kinds of props, some simple puppetry and some silly dancing and listen to them singing parts of their story.

The kids loved it. They were fascinated throughout - their eyes never left the performance area and no one went to the toilet! Producer Natalie Querol (in her first foray into directing) and her cast moved the show along at a cracking pace so that the hour flew by. Hawkins and Cordingley established a good relationship with the audience, the the latter actually sitting with them and learning a few names so that he could incorporate them later before the show started.

Great fun and well performed by an impressive cast!

Reviewer: Peter Lathan

Are you sure?