The Night That Autumn Turned To Winter
Co-produced by Bristol Old Vic and Farnham Maltings
Devised and composed by Little Bulb Theatre
Battersea Arts Centre
In a cosy council chamber in a former town hall, an intrepid trio, woodland wardens dressed in scout brown with backpacks that conceal wings, invite the audience, young and old, to share the one night in the woods when autumn turns to winter and, if we are good and gentle, we might get to see the shy winter unicorn on the cusp of that time.
A rug on the floor, patchwork trees in the background, autumn leaves pegged out, a moon and stars up high (design Verity Sandler), our three multi-talented, multi-accented hosts, Dominic Conway, Clare Beresford of the fabulous voice and violinist Miriam Gould work the front rows.
Do you like music? Then you can be my judges, says Dominic, woodland being and secret fairy (I see he wears a wedding ring, so I can’t marry him and take him home with me, what a pity). A man of many parts: musician, composer, frog, owl, and a sweetly charismatic, uninhibited performer with a lovely way with children.
Emma, picked out of a nursery school party, agrees to be a kind judge. In time—a lunchtime show can take a little while to warm up—Dominic has us all eating out of his hand. Parents are soon chuckling and laughing at his Spike Milliganish comic asides. And we are all getting a lesson in music. Do go and see if you can identify the familiar classical tunes they sneak into the storyline…
Devised and created by the company, The Night That Autumn Turned To Winter—a big title for a fifty-minute show targeted at ages 3 to 7—is a musical enchantment. Ancient fairies, thousands and hundreds of years old, this genial triumvirate transforms into forest creatures, squirrels, rabbits, fox, frog, fly, spider, hedgehogs and owl kitted out in the best knitted costumes from Farnham Knits and Fiona Baxter.
Rabbits have to vocalise ("the lyrics are limited") for their carrot supper; the foxy fox is a jazz singer in leather coat; the pond is an eiderdown and a frog in outsize goggles wears a snazzy green cagoule and sings beautifully, as the buzzing fly, Clare in metal sieves for eyes and black ballet costume, tries to avoid his tongue and striped spider-mother Miriam’s web. Absolutely hilarious.
The nervous small hedgehogs—knitted shoe socks—four of them, come to have their noses / toes tickled and walk off single file. Owl sings to a Chopin Nocturne as he tries to catch a mouse in the audience, but they’re all too big. The one he does eventually get—a teensy-tiny one—he proclaims sweeter than he had imagined…
And then… welcome the unicorn. After all the antennae finger waving on tops of heads, we must become a whole room of unicorns to make the magical one welcome. How easy it is to manipulate a captive audience. Scary, eh?
And here he is, all white, seen first from behind the gauze, as large as life—a unicorn panto-horse—close enough to touch in his patch of magical silver cloth moonlight. “Stand back, it has limited visibility”, and that must be true for the two brave girls inside.
So there you have it, we’ve sat up all night till the sun’s rays splintered the first day of winter. We’ve clapped, we’ve participated—one (un)lucky adult had to hold the last nut for the squirrels to find—we’ve sat entranced, and though all performances of The Night That Autumn Turned To Winter are relaxed, hardly anyone moved, even, thankfully, my two-year-old escort.
Credit to director Alex Scott for a miniature delight: one that could fit into a sitting room takes some careful planning. I read, that “this year they will once again be performing as part of the CBeebies Christmas Show, recorded at The Sheffield Crucible Theatre”. They are a daft little treasure, never mind a fecund Little Bulb.
Reviewer: Vera Liber