Touring – reviewed at Watford Palace Theatre
Guest reviewer: Julia Spargo
The Lost Words and The Lost Spells by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris are a lament to children’s lost connections to nature and a reaction to the subsequent removal of words for nature being removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary.
Like the books, this new musical celebrates the natural world and is beautiful in its simplicity; a small cast, almost no costume changes and a magical set; the light of a large moon presiding over a muted stage. The instruments, played by the cast throughout, are already on set when the audience arrives and remain so, deftly incorporated into scenes; a cello becoming the trunk of an old oak.
Jay, a schoolgirl (played beautifully by Miriam Nyarko), moves to a new area and becomes so overwhelmed on her first day of a new school she forgets her own name. She finds a book of spells which takes her into a wild world where she is shown how to bin-dive by Fox (Alex Wingfield), the magic of a dandelion clock by Hare (Toby De Salis), takes part in a conker competition, refereed by Woodpecker (the mischievous Lucy Yates, whose drum solos are a highlight) and is shown the beauty of the sea by a grey seal. The set is used to great effect; grey scarves are used to create waves of the sea. A puppet of a barn owl is raised across the stage, silhouetted by the moon and creating a sense of magic.
I enjoyed the references to land access and the right to roam, when Jay is shown how to enter “forbidden” areas of nature with swagger by Hare. The highlight for me was Mary Erskine and Will Dollard’s music. A saxophone mimics the cry of the fox and the drums represent the sounds of a woodpecker looking for food. Fox shows Jay around the bins of restaurants to a jazz number, the grey seal sings about the beauty of oceans to a sea shanty, and the commanding Jackdaw preens to a cabaret number.
Children will be spellbound by the magic of the set and the catchy tunes, and adults will be reminded of the innocence of their childhoods. All will be reminded of the beauty of the natural world, and hopefully inspired to protect it. A delight.
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