Avenue Theatre, Ipswich – until 3 January 2016
DARK DOINGS IN THE BURROW
I hope that the great Beatrix Potter, out of copyright just last year, would be pleased at the pointing, bouncing, giggling and gasping in Red Rose Chain’s little theatre. At the sharing, too, of jokes between the smallest children, their big siblings, and the parents at their side. For of all “nursery” authors, this sharp-eyed and mischievous illustrator, author and naturalist is one of the most rewardingly dramatic. Peter Rabbit – orphaned by Mr McGregor’s pie habit – escapes, as does Tom Kitten from the awful roly-poly-pudding fate: but even the most innocent of children know, and want to know, that there are real dangers and fates out there.
Joanna Carrick’s roistering, artfully pretend-improv adaptation launches with relish into one of the more thrilling ones. Tommy Brock the badger feigns friendship with daft old Benjamin Bunny in order to steal his helpless baby-rabbit grandchildren, and gets banished from the house by tearful Mummy Flopsy (we’ve all had relatives like that). Brock breaks into Mr Tod’s fox-earth to use his batterie de cuisine for rabbit pie, but falls asleep with his boots on; the fox comes home indignant (but nervous, for badgers have bigger teeth), and makes such a mess of his revenge that under cover of their brawling, two heroic rabbits rescue the babies from the oven. Dramatic? Star Wars, eat your heart out!
It’s a three-hander, with hasty costume-switches which amused the children greatly. Carrick frames it as two disgruntled urban kids exploring their new attic in the countryside: Lawrence Russell and Kirsty Thorpe kick around old dust-sheeted toys, cookpots and random furniture and find the old books “Baby stuff!”. The ghost of Beatrix Potter appears – Rachael McCormick – grumbling at their bleeping, rackety modern ways, and counters their scornful “nothing ever happened in the olden days” with a few hair-raising Victorian headline tales – kidnappings, a baby set afloat in a cradle, a woman buried alive, dogs boiled up for margarine. That made the older kids sit up a bit.
So they all set out to act the Tale of Mr Tod, and great fun it is: plenty of physical jokes, pratfalls, unexpected props (an epidiascope, for heaven’s sake, projecting shadow-pictures) and inspired improvisation: the rabbits’ tunnel needs front row co-operation, which I was proud to join, holding up the wall. Some knowing gags too: the wicked badger turns TV presenter of “Baking with Brock”, Russell as Mr Tod is rather camp and preoccupied with the state of his soft furnishings, and McCormick does a saucily twerking Mrs Tiggywinkle. Nor does Carrick shy away from Potter’s grand vocabulary : Tommy Brock is still ”an incurably indolent person, snoring industriously”.
So we all had a grand time. And most strikingly, this being Ipswich, and only 90 minutes, many parents (including our local MP Ben Gummer with his alert small Wilfred ) had brought technically too-young children, a few under two. And they probably didn’t get the whole drift, but crowed and pointed and laughed and stared at the capering adults and daft hats. Result.
box office 01473 603388 http://www.redrosechain.com
to 3 Jan