Review: The Elves and The Shoemaker. Neville Studio. Nottingham Playhouse.

One of the first times young children aged between three and eight years old (with their parents or guardians) are exposed to  the wonderful world of theatre is theatre adapted specifically with them in mind. Locally, it can be through children’s theatre such as the festive adapted literary works put on by Nottingham Playhouse, alongside the annual panto, and situated in the bijou Neville Studio theatre space. It is warm and womb like and not as potentially scary as a big theatre visit scenario for the little ones. Even a pantomime can be an unnerving experience for more sensitive children. It is important that the little ones are included in the theatrical happenings and even get to sit as close to the action as possible, on nice soft cushions maybe, and that the players are bright, colourful, welcoming and utterly non-threatening.

For the last three years East Midlands Theatre have been avidly attending the Neville Studio productions at Nottingham Playhouse. Even as adult observers we have thoroughly enjoyed watching the kids thrill to shows such as the 2015 Hare and Tortoise, 2016 The Princess and The Frog and last year’s Town Mouse and Country Mouse. Their direct and unadulterated reactions to what is unfolding in front of them can be as heart warming and certainly as amusing as anything in the adult experience. Often even funnier. The kids just say it like it is.

All of the Nottingham Playhouse productions have involved the actors singing to, and singing with, the audience and bringing them right into the very heart of the theatre experience. This year’s Katherine Chandler adaptation of the Brothers Grimm story The Elves and The Shoemaker is certainly no different. It may even be one of the best yet. It is delightfully inclusive and weaves its distinct magic with this enraptured  young audience.

Director Siobhán Cannon – Brownlee’s delightfully quirky and playful direction works a treat in this wonderful new adaptation. The flexible set design by Rebecca Constable finds us regularly amused by theatrical surprises such as characters appearing from inside sets of drawers. Spoiler alert! Ooops too late. Sorry.

Surprise and creative invention are the key notes of this piece as well as accentuating the central messages of kindness and generosity to all. Rob Green’s compositions add huge charm to the whole and Alexandra Stafford’s lighting is superb and contains and controls the moods throughout. It is very interesting how light can affect an audience especially an audience of children who have little or no comprehension of it’s theatrical power yet respond to it’s piquant and pertinent nature so instinctively.

The cast are two former students of Nottingham’s Television Workshop – famous for encouraging the careers of many an established actor and director Siobhán Cannon – Brownlee is also a former performer and director with the company. Hazel Monoghan plays Shoemaker Clara and Eiffy and Terry Haywood plays Noah the Shoemaker and Elf. Both are very talented actor- musicians and the audience really take to the way they express the story and its themes. Both really engage with the kids. Some children so love being in this inclusive experience they are loathe to go home!

The Elves and The Shoemaker is described as ‘ a magical festive retelling of the much loved Brothers Grimm fairytale about kindness and the joy we get from helping each other. This production is filled with plenty of chances to join in and there indeed is the joy expressed by all the small children in that total engagement with the world of theatre. These are both the audiences of today and, with encouragement – the continuum of the audiences of tomorrow.

If you have ever found yourself intrigued how a brand new, rather beautiful pair of leather shoes has surprisingly appeared in any room of your house it may not be the wife’s hidden obsession with buying shoes (do thoroughly check the bank statements) but something far more rainbow magical and distinctly elvish!

The Elves and The Shoemaker runs Weds 12 Dec to Sat 5 Jan 2019.

Photo credits: Pamela Raith

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