Monday, 4 December 2017

REVIEW: The Borrowers at the Watermill in Newbury


Mary Norton’s award winning Borrowers books written in the nineteen fifties present a staging problem for theatre which is easily solved in TV and Film adaptations because the essence of the stories is that the little five inch tall people (The Borrowers) live their lives trying to avoid being seen by the “Human Beans”. The interaction between the two is central to the first book. Toots Butcher’s set design firmly places us in the Borrowers world with a large Colman’s mustard box, abacus, crayons, matchsticks and ABC cubes setting out their home beneath the floors of an old country house in rural England.

It is here we meet Pod (energetically played by Matthew Romain), his worried wife Homily (Charlotte Workman) and their adventurous daughter fourteen year old Arrietty (Nenda Neurer) as Pod returns from another borrowing expedition in the house above. It is easy to accept them as small people in their natural habitat nervously responding to noises from above. The challenge is representing the Human Beans who catch sight of them and it is a weakness of the first half direction that this is inconsistent, sometimes The Boy (played with youthful charm by Frazer Hadfield) is on stage peering into the floor boards, sometimes he is high above look down from a platform and sometime we are asked to imagine he is above the auditorium. The other human beans Mrs Driver (Natasha Karp) and Crampfurl (Ed Macarthur) appear mainly on the stage amongst the Borrowers borrowings. It would have worked better if director Paul Hart had used the high levels of the lovely theatre consistently to represent the Human’s domain and the stage the Borrowers environment.

In the second half when they escape to the country, the whole production works better without Human beans, flows more naturally and the creativity is released. The sequence with the sardine tin on the river is imaginative and fun and the use of a slide and boxes to depict their journey and their home work well. The reunion of the two borrowers families with the discovery that Eggletina ( Anna Fordham) Aunt Lupy ( Natasha Karp ) and Uncle Hendreary ( Ed MacArthur) are still alive brings us to the end of the second book in the series.

The decision to use actor musicians to play the original music by Tarek
Merchant, which has worked so wonderfully in previous Watermill productions, also gets in the way of the storytelling rather than enhancing it. It would have been better if the Borrowers did not have to encumber themselves with instruments. The musical production works best in the second half song,” Cover’s an art”.

However these productions decisions should not detract from an enjoyable show which a young audience will enjoy with a lively and charismatic young cast, an attractive and ingenious creation of the little world and a happy ending.

Review by Nick Wayne

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