Around the World in 80 Days, Scoop, London

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Shameful confession time: despite this being the ninth year of free theatre at the Scoop amphitheatre next to London’s City Hall, and despite my having worked no more than five minutes’ walk away for nearly as long, Friday was my first attendance at Steam Industry Free Theatre’s programme of events.

The title of the company’s 2011 season is Dangerous Journeys. Later in the evening, Bertold Brecht’s The Mother would undertake a personal, political and metaphorical journey. However, the evening kicks off with the repertory company taking a more literal approach, with Jules Verne’s eccentric Englishman Phileas Fogg (Eugene Washington) circumnavigating the globe in order to win a bet.

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Around the World in 80 Days, Scoop, London3Scott Matthewman2013-06-03 18:04:59Shameful confession time: despite this being the ninth year of free theatre at the Scoop amphitheatre next to London’s City Hall, and despite my havin…

Toad, Southwark Playhouse

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The blurb for Southwark Playhouse’s latest production, Toad, a new adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, promises that you will be “more than an audience, you’ll become part of the Wild Wood itself”.

What this really means is that, for one scene, two of the characters will run up the central aisle. Other than that, what we have is a production which tries to think of itself as edgy and innovative, but despite the best efforts of the cast fails to deliver on those points while still remaining entertaining.

Any stage adaptation of The Wind in the Willows must by necessity require some degree of imagination in the minds of the audience, as the woodland creatures of the novel are portrayed on stage by very obviously human actors. It’s possibly this part of the production where Toad is most successful. The water-loving Ratty is decked out in his sailing all-weather gear, Toad himself wears green waders, a light mac and green swimming goggles. Most effective of all, the creatures of the Wild Wood – Weasel, Stoat and Ferrett – are decked out in camouflage gear, making their initial emergence from the Wild Wood (the Vault’s twin tunnels, hauntingly lit) all the more effective.

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Toad, Southwark Playhouse3Scott Matthewman2011-07-27 12:31:38The blurb for Southwark Playhouse’s latest production, Toad, a new adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, promises that you will be …

The Railway Children, Waterloo Station

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Of all the children’s books and/or television adaptations that I devoured as a youngster, it is E. Nesbit’s works, including The Phoenix and the Carpet and Five Children and It, which have aged the least well. For me, it’s a combination of how episodic the novels tend to be – ideal for bedtime reading, maybe, less so when rereading as an older child (or even adult). The characters also tend to be quite flatly drawn, with each child possessing one character trait and one alone.

That The Railway Children rises above the Nesbit formula is down in no small part to the glorious film starring Jenny Agutter and Bernard Cribbins. And the stage adaptation, which has returned to its site-specific location on the old Eurostar platforms at Waterloo station, is as much a tribute to Lionel Jeffries’ wonderful movie as it to the original book.

If anything, the theatrical environment allows for an ever better evocation of the tales of the three Victorian children forced to relocate with their mother to Yorkshire from London when their father is imprisoned on suspicion of espionage, and the family income dries up. Amy Noble, Tim Lewis and Grace Rowe are childlike adults, retelling and recreating incidents from their younger life. This allows for a gentle nod to the film’s casting, where Jenny Agutter and Sally Thompsett was far older than their characters, but also partly explains away the episodic nature of the story. And Mike Kenny’s script is gloriously self-aware in places, not afraid to poke a little fun at itself without ever overstepping the line into self-parody.

As kindly porter Mr. Perks, Marcus Brigstocke is on great form, mixing comedy and pathos with a huge dollop of charm. Ably assisted by Elizabeth Keates as Mrs. Perks, it’s an accomplished performance from a performer not known for his stage work.

But however good the actors, they all make it quite clear that they know that the other visual elements are just as much the stars of the show. The stage itself, two thin traverse spaces running either side of a railway track upon which blocks of staging glide in and out, allows the many scene changes to take place without slowing down the pace of the story. But it is the arrival of the Stirling Single, a perfectly preserved steam locomotive, which produces the biggest applause from an audience which has been quite rightly enraptured throughout.

The Railway Children, Waterloo Station4Scott Matthewman2011-07-27 12:31:33Of all the children’s books and/or television adaptations that I devoured as a youngster, it is E. Nesbit’s works, including The Phoenix and the Carpe…

The Magician’s Daughter, Little Angel Theatre

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Recently, children’s puppetry company Little Angel Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company celebrated the fact that both organisations were 50 years old by collaborating on a puppet version of The Tempest.

I didn’t see that show, sadly. So it was lovely to at least be able to see this sister project – also produced by Little Angel in association with the RSC – in which Michael Rosen creates a mini-sequel of sorts, for children aged 3 and above.

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The Magician’s Daughter, Little Angel Theatre4Scott Matthewman2011-07-27 12:42:26Recently, children’s puppetry company Little Angel Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company celebrated the fact that both organisations were 50 years…