top of page
  • Writer's pictureReview Culture

There's A Monster In Your Show. Lincoln Arts Centre. 13 April 2024.

Updated: Apr 14

Tom Fletcher's successful interactive books make their way onto the stage in this colourful, children's play rife with clowning, playfulness , music, dancing and puppetry. For the second time this week, Review Culture visited a show for young audiences and has left with a smile on their face. This touring production is making a two-day stop in Lincoln at the University's Arts Centre and is successfully pulling in lots of children and families to see this mash-up of the varied book stories performed live on stage. The whole show is like a live-action cartoon from the set design, to the performances, to the realisation of the puppets. The music is bright and catchy, and is guaranteed to get your feet tapping and make the littlest audience members get their groove on.

If there's one thing that children love to see in a theatre show, it is grown adults being silly and the raucous infectious laughter caused by performers Ben Murrell and Ashton Owen's antics, in particular, demonstrated that fact perfectly. As the show begins, their clowning skills pushed their innocent, child-like behaviour to the extreme and they did it so well! It is probably unfair to suggest that these two performers made better clowns than their peers, because the entire cast were more than equal to the task, but Murrell and Owen do stand out for the sheer enjoyment in their performance. Charlie Daniells was an energetic performer who excelled when signing and dancing and her puppetry really stood, out but more of that later. Vinnie Monachello provided the most defined character in his performance as Charlie, the fretful story maker who felt it was his job to ensure that "the show must go on". Monachello effortlessly guided the narrative and kept it going throughout as the character who most changes, due to his experience chasing the Monster and his friends back into their respective books, but not before learning a lesson from them. He gives a lovely gleeful performance. Finally, Josh Macrow provided significant assists with a more physical performance focussed on the puppetry throughout the show, deftly offering assistance, switching from puppet to puppet and scarcely dropping a beat as he did so, quietly enhancing the work of the four principal performers.

The music, as mentioned, has a familiarity to it which is perhaps because we know Tom Fletcher's pop career and there are certainly elements of that which come through in this show, but it is aimed squarely at its young audience and it absolutely had the audience where they needed to be - squealing with delight and boogieing in their seats. To see such free abandon from appreciative audience members as they shake their tiny groove thangs, is joyous and will warm even the hardest heart as you see pre-schoolers giving it their all.

Laura McEwen's design worked really well providing a wonderfully colourful, multi-levelled set that give so many opportunities for shape-shifting throughout the show. Blocks were moved back and forth, bringing variety to the picture on stage and to giving a platform to allow the puppets to be read from further back in the audience. The use of blocks to create levels kept audience interest in what was going on, and never got stale. There were also some very creative choices, such as the 2D depiction of the balloons, the use of a string of lighting, brought out to enhance the final scene. I also loved the arrival of Alien's flashing space ship, a truly memorable moment.

For me, the real triumph was in the puppetry. It is clear that the ensemble are all talented puppeteers in their own right. Each puppeteer performed different puppets at different times during the show and brought their own performance and flair to each. Though Josh Macrow, mentioned above was not really seen as one of the four principals throughout, his presence was essential in bringing out the inner life of the puppets by assisting with additional movement, and it would be so easy to overlook his contribution unless you realise how hard puppetry really is. Charlie Daniells brought a certain sass to the Unicorn and though cartoonish, she delivered a really subtle performance with appropriate whinnies, shimmies, tail flicks, and the like. Her interpretation of the Dragon was completely different in personality and movement and that character's sweet persona shone through. Ben Murrell's animation of Monster and the voice he gave him, were note perfect. He was a monster more sinned against than sinning and Charlie didn't give Monster the credit he deserved for trying to help throughout. That level of vulnerability is difficult to portray in a two-foot high puppet but he managed it in a way that didn't talk down to its audience. Finally, I had a really soft spot for Alien when operated by Ashton Owen. He imbued it with wit and enthusiasm and I loved the expression he gave the creature when shocked. Overall, the ensemble breathed life into Keith Frederick's glorious puppets, directed with efficiency and ingenuity by Roman Stefanski.

Director Miranda Larson has given her team scope to play, and trusts them with the show which is so important in establishing a team ethos and a sense of ownership among the ensemble. Zoe Bourn's vision as the writer of the show is a testament to her understanding of Tom Fletcher's books and the target audience for the show. Overall, the show is a visual delight and a fun-filled crowd-pleaser, thoroughly recommended to young and old and the show continues in Lincoln tomorrow before continuing on its national tour.

Andy Evans 13 April 2024

Photos taken from the show's official website of an earlier performance, and do not feature Vinnie Monachello as Charlie. Review Culture does not own the copyright on these images.

104 views0 comments


bottom of page