[Review:] THE TOWN MOUSE AND THE COUNTRY MOUSE, Puppet Theatre Barge, London.

This review will cover Puppet Theatre Barge’s The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse, an adorable and quirky puppet show for children.

Adapted, of course, from the well-known Aesop fable of the same name, this show made for many alterations; some I found positive and others I did not.

I thought it forward-thinking that these two mice were made adventurous females and that this change was subtly and ordinarily implemented. It is important that children have a wide range of gender representations to raise questions or, indeed, to erase stereotypical gender misguidance. Though I believe this has a lesser effect in this show, this change, in its faintness, can only be positive.

I am not sure, however, as to how effective it was to have chosen this particular fable as the ‘central’ focus. It was more the case that this show used this fable as a touchstone to other children’s tales and nursery rhymes. Though we returned to this fable again and again, it had little significance, overall. Any moral to be taken from the original fable is also lost in this adaptation, which is not inherently negative, yet there is little to support this decision. In short, what is the aim of the show? — understanding that ‘to entertain the children’ is not a viable response. And why does it profess to be a realisation of The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse if it is, in fact, a collection of tales? Perhaps it would be better if a simple ‘and Others’ were to be added onto the end of the show’s title.

On to the technicalities of the show itself. The types of puppets used were marottes and hand puppets, meaning that a lot of the puppets’ life was achieved through bulky movements as opposed to delicate, isolated ones. This made for a humorous and animated effect, a lively and silly visual to engage the children with. The overall puppeteering, in fact, was professional and effective.

I did have issues towards the end of the show, however. People often think that children’s theatre should not be critiqued with the same harshness as one critiques adult theatre with. This should not be the case, however. Whilst children are easily won over by imagination, their imaginative realm is not one distinct from the real world; in fact, they use the former to cogitate, to better understand the latter. Children are highly intuitive and observant, and so slip-ups are easily acknowledged and can take away from the magic of the show.

Taking this on board, I must consider a few elements of this performance that could have taken away from the theatrical magic of this puppet show. On the night I saw this performance, there was quite a fair share of slip-ups. A bottle attached itself to a white sheet — which I can only assume to be a ghost (other audience members were audibly confused by this, too) — and flew to the front of the playboard, landing the wrong way, where its internal structure was visible to the audience. This was left here for the rest of the show’s duration. At another point, whoever was animating the Postman (a blackbird) hand puppet forgot to put on a black sleeve to cover his wrist, exposing his arm and watch.

The biggest sin committed by this puppet show, however, came in the second act. The light from within the castelet became far too harsh, and this casted very distinct shadows upon the front bottom curtains which were far too thin. The entire workings beyond the frame, the puppeteering, the passing materials to one another and flat-changing for the next scene, everything was completely visible. Not at all desirable for this form of theatre!

Other than in these isolated moments, the puppeteering was effective and sharp, as I said before. It was mainly the narrative that I had a problem with. Most of the action, though entertaining, seemed highly superfluous, particularly the ‘Green Bottles’ sequence which was drawn-out and uninventive, making use of a peculiar assortment of objects: a ball, a spider, a hand, and others. It seemed as though every puppet ever made for this company was being recycled and put to use somewhere in this show.

Characters were, indeed, sweet and endearing, but I cannot help but wonder if this is due to our gleeful pre-conception of these existing tales or to the creativity of the show’s conceptualist. Their designs were somewhat inelaborate and cheap-looking, though this did not diminish their enjoyability.

Lighting was perhaps too intense at points, though I understand that, given the specific nature of the site, this may be difficult to control. The set, however, was rather dynamic in its capabilities: little hatches and shadow boxes made for an intriguing and multidimensional landscape, though I did feel the shadow boxes were perhaps a little too blurry.

Overall, a cute and quirky performance in a conspicuously unique environment enough to fuel spectators’ interest alone.

“A cute and endearing show, if a little inharmonious in its composition.”

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