There's a Tiger in the Garden.
Docks Academy, Grimsby
11 November 2023
Nora is bored. She is visiting her grandma and has played with "every toy in the world" and now is REALLY bored. So Grandma sets her a quest to go into the garden and discover the wonders that lie hidden there. That is the essential premise of this beautiful children's play new theatrical adaptation of Lizzy Stewart’s Waterstones Children’s Book Prize winning book for family audiences which is a new theatrical adaptation of Lizzy Stewart’s Waterstones Children’s Book Prize winning book for family audiences.
This lively, compact, musical play is a visual feast with a colour palette lifted straight from the illustrations in the book that provides the source and inspiration for the play. Running at around 45 minutes, this production managed to hold the attention of its young audience brilliantly. If the audience's attention span starts to wane, the cast jump from the stage and move through the audience inviting the children to join in with an action song or encourage humungous glittering fireflies to soar over the heads of the children present.
There is always something to engage the senses at play in this show with a wide range of stimuli to draw the children's attention before moving the narrative forward. The beautifully rendered set which repeatedly found new ways to turn inside out and amaze the audience as we travelled on a journey with Nora from a garden in a back garden, to the North Pole and through a giant jungle and back again. The whole story reinforces the fact that we are only limited by our imagination. Children should be free to see the world in wide-eyed wonder and to marvel at the beauty of nature and it's diversity. This charming play does precisely that.
Emma Higham, as writer/director has done a superb job, creating a fast-paced, slick draws you into the world of the book and shows everything from Nora's perspective. The design by Laura McEwen is bold, brash and lively, creating memorable images to enchant the young audience. The musical elements of the show are hauntingly effective and the simplicity of the songs belie the harmonic blending of voices which is far more complex than first perceived. Freya Wynn-Jones as composer and musical director delivers an exciting and complex score throughout.
This show will always stand and fall by the performance of its cast though, as they are the interface with the audience that draw together the treads of the hard work of all those behind the scenes and when they take a bow at show's end, they are acknowledging the team effort necessary to create a winning production, not simply soaking up the admiration of the audience for themselves.
In the role of Nora, Tamsin Lynes gives a winning performance that instantly allows you to believe that she is a mere child full of wonder and curiosity and someone that the children present would want to know (or be!). She succeeds in bringing the action to life with wide-eyed wonder and belief and persuades even some of the rather awkward looking parents to join in the actions that the children are also encouraged to perform.
Also joining Lynes, is Clark Joseph Edwards, a performer with a winning personality and a childlike enthusiasm which is evident from the moment he enters the auditorium and begins interacting with children, sympathetic to those who may need a little more encouragement. His smile and general demeanour allow him to persuade the children to cast aside any inhibitions and to enter the action of the play and enjoy themselves. He makes an excellent grumpy polar bear in the scene when Nora and the bear meet because she has become lost in the garden.
The third member of the talented ensemble is Felicity Donnelly, a supremely talented individual performer, whose physicality and singing voice are a superb asset within this production. Donnelly conveys warmth, charm and trust in her performance and once again wins the children easily through her demeanour. Her background in puppetry is clearly evident in the confident performance as Grandma with an astonishingly beautiful puppet built by Hannah Barrie, who also served as puppetry adviser on the show. A bunraku puppet is easy to overperform and when only performed by two puppeteers can look less than lifelike, but Donnelly gives deft touches that effectively bring Grandma's inner personality to the stage.
It is worth noting that the puppetry throughout is excellent and the varied, different builds are stunning. The work of Keith Frederick in creating the tiger is beautiful, just suggestive enough to create the impression and completely non-threatening for young children,; Clark Joseph Edwards animates the tiger masterfully. Kelly Vassie's fireflies and Nick Ashe's Plants that will eat you whole are all testament to the vision of the creative team.
I hope that this venture will not be the last quality children's theatre performance to be staged at the Docks Academy, who must be complimented for having the vision to bring such a charming play to Grimsby. The size of the audience for each performance suggests that there is a real market to continue this work in the future.
Andy Evans 11 November 2023