Updated: Oct 18, 2022
Elinor Cook based on the books by Enid Blyton
Theatr Clwyd, in conjunction with Chichester Festival Theatre
Theatr Clwyd, Mold
October 1st-15th, 2022; 2hr 20min
"Let’s explore the island, let’s explore...”
How do you take a time-honoured children’s classic series and transpose that to the stage, set to music? It’s a challenge, and a departure from recent Theatr Clwyd productions, perhaps with a touch of demob happiness from director Tamara Harvey, soon to leave Mold to take up co-directorship of the RSC.
The cast and crew do a great job of capturing the spirit of Enid Blyton’s novels: there is a refreshing innocence about the play and sheer, untrammeled enthusiasm from all concerned.
A picture is drawn of an awkward meeting for George, the only child of a high-flying scientist, and her three cousins as they all arrive at the coast for the summer. They experience the childhood insecurity about meeting new people but soon get along famously and embark on an adventure that threatens to blow them all to smithereens and destroy the work that will save the world from catastrophe. Once they manage to overcome the evil villain with the help of Timmy the dog, they sit down to a picnic hamper with sticky toffee pudding and lashings of ginger beer.
The production is imaginative, weaving together narrative and song and making admirable use of onstage musicians and puppetry. The songs are great, with a few double-take numbers that allow individual characters to take centre stage and tell their story. Some musicals dumb-down the storyline to make way for show-stoppers, but this production has more depth than you might expect, and some subtle messages about childhood: “‘I can’t do that, I might fall!". "That’s the best bit, free-falling".
The acting is great, imitating endearing childhood mannerisms where appropriate. Louis Suc played Dick as clever and funny but still vulnerable, and among the adults, Kibong Tanji memorably captured the villainous Rowena.
This type of storyline is ripe for parody - which has been done ad nauseam, and which often misses the point of the exercise. Here is a song of innocence and escapism; a world of mischief and camaraderie, intended to grow children free from the cynicism of our so-called sophisticated society. For a child, it captures the idea that life is an adventure. For an adult, it is a nostalgic return to a well-loved tale.
I had not expected such a warm, feelgood adventure, but I certainly got one - one that is a pleasure to watch whether you are eight or 80, and trying to recall those far distant times.
Info and tickets here