“Two of the most gorgeous, and delicate tellings of familiar tales you’ll hear this side of ‘Jackonory’ in the TV show’s glory days.”
There’s a reason Dolly Parton and Elvis Presley never cut a record together. The two artists wanted to collaborate but, in their infinite wisdom, Elvis’ managers kept making offers Dolly’s people could easily refuse. The way she tells it, this meeting of minds but not of pocketbooks was a vital early lesson. The industry is called “show business” for a reason, some choices have to be made with your head in spite of your heart. For the producers and creators of children’s theatre, where innocence and magic are so integral to any successful production, keeping worldly Ying and otherworldly Yang in harmony over the long term is not so much a soft skill as a superpower. Sad, but true, theatre involves much more bean-counting than fantastic geese who lay golden eggs. It’s not about the scale either. Stan Lee simply created picture books just as Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler do. These artists are the Warhols and Picassos of their world. But for all the corporate billions in revenue, the art is still what matters. When you’ve got an artist who can make ends meet by producing fabulous content for impressionable young minds, you can move the world for that is the lever Archimedes was talking about.
We enter to find Andy Lawrence, like a middle-years Merlin of enchantment and make-believe, bespectacled and be-beared. If you’ve ever wanted to see someone who can seem to saunter when they’re standing still, look no further. You go into some shows and you feel like you’re a medieval burgher, being loudly induced to stay and watch a back-of-the-cart performance in the market square. Lawrence is much softer, much subtler. It’s impossible not to warm to him. From the soft lighting to Paolo Conte quietly crooning ‘Happy Feet’, this is someone who knows how to set a calming scene for those of us not always guaranteed to use our inside voices. What follows are two of the most gorgeous, and delicate tellings of familiar tales you’ll hear this side of ‘Jackonory’ in the TV show’s glory days. If there was such a thing as an ultra-robust souffle, guaranteed never to let you down at the last minute, this would be it. Daughter 1.0 (7yrs) wrote this to her Godmother:
“Dear Aunty Claire, I went to the bedfod festival fringe. I went to see pigs and bears don’t come in pairs! There were two stories. The tree little pigs and Goldllocks and the tree bears. First there was the tree little pigs he used a three to show the house where all of them lived. And the wolf was a bit shabby wich made him look hungry and scary. In Goldilocks and the three bears he put on big ears for the Daddy bear a medium size bear and a tiny bear. Goldilocks hated having bathes and was a very messy eater. And she put her Whole face in the bole of porge. And the bears were so scared oh her! I loved it! Lots of love xxx”
Merlin had his wizard’s staff, Theatre of Widdershins* has its puppetry. The characters, especially the big bad wolf, are simply perfect, which not every sightline in the Bedfringe studio is. The hand-crafted world they inhabit is joyous. It makes the heart sing. The Three Bears’ House is so elaborately simple as to defy belief. If J. Robert Oppenheimer had built dolls’ houses, they would have looked like these. Even so, like Merlin’s staff, all these props are secondary to the man himself. If you’re looking for someone to keep the kids entertained, or to mentor the once and future king of all England, Andrew Lawrence, is your guy.
*Widdershins is the auld English term for counter-clockwise, contrary to the sun’s course, left-handed and no, I didn’t have to ask.
Reviewer: Dan Lentell