As I'm sure many of you with children or younger relatives have noticed, children's entertainment these days is awash with seemingly very substandard fare. With the rise of dedicated round the clock kids TV channels, there has been a corresponding rise of quickly produced shows, with cheap animation and a lot noise standing in for charm, craft and old fashioned story telling.
Now I'm not saying that's it's all bad, but does seem to be a lot of entertainment aimed at kids - and not just on TV - that's even when it's not being cynically produced with an eye to shifting merchandising, it's too worried about being either inoffensive or too busy trying to be educational to actually get on with the traditional job of children's media - and making magic. However never fear, for there still are those who understand the value of firing the imagination with good story-telling, and a highly recommend example of this is the current production on tour from Hiccup Theatre, a retelling of the old tale of Rumpelstiltskin, first recounted by the Brothers Grimm back in 1812.
Now the combination of 'children's theatre' and 'traditional fairy tale' will have many assuming that this is some species of out season panto, but while there is music, song and comedy, this stage version is very far from the usual cocktail of washed-up celebs, old jokes and repurposed recent pop hits that take to the stage every December.
Instead here we have the timeless old tale faithfully retold on in a way that is both modern and accessible but also very traditional Written especially for Hiccup by the Olivier winning playwright Mike Kenny, we have a cast - Ivan Stott, Valentina Ceschi, Charlotte Mafham and Sam Redway - as four fairies who retell the Rumpelstiltkin story, taking on various different roles as the story progresses.
It's a lovely conceit that serves well to both draw the audience into the story and also acclimatize the children to the concept of actors taking on different roles. Furthermore even before the show begins, as you take your seats, the cast will be mingling with the audience in character as their fairy selves, again drawing everyone into the fairy tale that will be unfolded.
The rustic props and set design are used to great effect to build the world of the story; being utilised in different ways at different points during the production in a manner that is ingenious, and also will appear completely natural to the children, mimicking exactly the way they themselves improvise with their objects and surroundings in play.
Old Rumpel himself is brought to life with a combination of performance and puppetry, making for a character that is both appealing and otherworldly. And our villain is by turns funny, charming and sinister - for while this is a production designed for children, it's not a sanitised retelling of the tale, retaining the touches of dark, wild, woodsy magic that all good versions of a classic fairy stories should have. However I would stress that there's nothing here that will upset younger viewers - Rumpel's just threatening enough to be the kind of villain kids love - rotten to the core but funny too.
The tone and atmosphere of the original tale is also captured in other aspects of the production too. The music and songs have the flavours of folk music, evoking older times of fields and forests, fairies and kings, but yet are fresh and catchy enough that you be leaving the theatre humming them. And as well meshing music and story telling, we also have a delightful piece of shadow puppetry built into the tale too, again bringing the old into the new in an exciting and memorable way.
The show clocks in at an hour, yet feels much longer - but in the best possible way. Our highly talented quartet of players will have so entranced that very soon you'll be freed from the tyranny of clocks and immersed into a fun, storybook landscape, swept away by the energy of the performance, and wrapped up in the magic of the tale.
Hiccup's Rumpelstiltskin is charming and enchanting - exactly as a good fairy tale should be - and it's not just a show for your little ones, but perfect for children of all ages, from two to two hundred.
Visit their site here - HICCUP THEATRE - for full details of a show near you!
JIM MOON, 17th May 2012