Pros: A gorgeous and skilful performance at a great location. A visit to The Puppet Theatre Barge in Little Venice is the perfect treat for an adult or child.
Cons: The poetry feels rather old-fashioned and doesn’t add much to the show, which is more about the great visuals offered by the puppetry.
The Puppet Theatre Barge is a special little something: a floating puppet theatre that’s moored in charming Little Venice most of the year, and sets sail for Richmond in the summer. As far as atmosphere goes, there’s no theatre like it; never before has visiting a show felt quite so much like going on a mini-vacation. The seating is remarkably spacious, although anyone taller than the average twelve-year-old gets a good bit of exercise in, trying to get to their seat without banging their head. It’s all part of the charm though: you do want to notice you’re on a boat after all.
In A Child’s Garden of Verse we see a selection of poems and songs by Treasure Island author Robert Louis Stevenson brought to life with marionettes and shadow puppets. The short poems cover a broad range of subjects and each has been imaginatively captured by Puppet Barge. The visuals are simple and restrained in some sections, such as the scene where a city is, Tetris-like, built from blocks descending from the sky. Other parts are more elegant and refined: from the delicately formed wings of the dragonflies at the insects’ ball to the glittering scales of the sea princess’s fish friends. The puppets are handled with great expertise as well, their movements subtle and lifelike.
A Child’s Garden of Verse is suitable for ages three and over. When I attended the barge was filled with children from three to ten who almost all watched the show with fascination. Their attention occasionally wandered during the more sober moments – like the poem about mushrooms – but they were clearly enraptured by the visual spectacle throughout the rest of the performance. There’s more than enough for adults to enjoy as well; my plus one remarked the scene with the miniature puppet theatre reminded her of her favourite moment in Being John Malkovich.
The only thing I found less enjoyable about the show was, surprisingly, the poetry itself, which felt somewhat dated in its tone. One of the best developments in children’s theatre has been that these days we don’t feel the need to talk down to kids anymore. One can of course hardly expect such progressiveness from a poetry collection first published in 1885, but it did make me wonder if there were no other books out there that might have been more suitable for adaptation. This, however, is clearly an adult’s complaint, since the children were mostly interested in the visual aspects of the performance and didn’t seem too fazed by anything else.
In the end though, all of that doesn’t really matter. All you need to know about the shows at the Puppet Theatre Barge is that 1) there are puppets and 2) it’s on a boat. In my opinion, that’s all the reason you need to treat a child (or yourself) to a performance.
Author: Based on the Collection by Robert Louis Stevenson
Box Office: 020 7249 6876
Booking Link: http://www.puppetbarge.com/Temporrarynotice.htm
Booking Until: 18th May 2014 on weekends only