Pros: Cute puppets, a talented cast, and charming music.
Cons: It’s a children’s theatre, so it’s full of children.
It’s kind of a strange experience going to a dedicated children’s theatre as a 24-year-old, unshaven man. It means odd looks from parents and children alike but, watching the lovely Moominsummer Madness it also means a really enjoyable Saturday afternoon. I haven’t been to the Polka Theatre since I was about 6 and walking into the auditorium once again was a really strange experience. The two shows I saw here came back to me instantly, memories I didn’t remember I still had: Charlotte’s Web and Pinocchio. One a school trip and the other a treat during what must have been for my mum another interminable summer holiday. The seats seem quite small now.
The Moomins, Tove Jansson’s iconic characters, are the original Scandinavian export, arriving on our soil long before The Killing and Sigur Ros. In Phil Porter’s adaptation of one of the Moomin books, a giant tidal wave forces the family to leave their flooded house and take refuge in an abandoned theatre. Ben Glasstone has composed some beautiful, singalong songs to accompany the story, starting with a gentle melody on a clarinet and the strums of a harp.
Normally, when the lights go down, it is a sign for everyone to be quiet. In a children’s theatre they just scream even louder. Dressed in black the actors control podgy little Moomin puppets. This cast is really impressive: not only do they move the Moomin puppets around naturally and with ease, making them walk or jump or fly or swim, but they sing in perfect harmony, move the set around, and slip in and out of the voices of each character they are controlling.
Direction by Peter Glanville and Dani Parr is brilliantly thought through. In one scene Moomintroll dives into the flooded kitchen to rescue the family’s breakfast. Teapots and strings of sausages float across the stage, and patterns of pots and pans become schools of fish. Laura McEwen’s set is beautifully decorated, first as a woodland scene with round windows of green leaves and then as a floating theatre with ornate gold carvings like the great old theatres in the West End.
The children in the audience shout out their feelings; they laugh when Moominpapa lands on his head, they delight in Little My’s mischief and Misabel’s eternal misery. They erupt when flurries of paper tickets flutter from the roof, grabbing them like contestants in The Crystal Maze.
The plot is sometimes silly, sometimes scary, often funny and always enchanting, rarely losing hold of the young audience’s attention. In the end, the characters perform a Moomin play within a Moomin play in the abandoned theatre, they sing a happy song and they tell the audience how brilliant going to the theatre is.
Great puppetry and music, familiar and friendly characters and every element perfectly pitched for ages 4-8 make this the perfect solution for parents whose long summer holiday is starting to drag.
Directors: Peter Glanville and Dani Parr
Translated by: Thomas Warburton
Adapted by: Phil Porter
Music: Ben Glasstone
Booking until: 16 August 2014
Box Office: 020 8543 4888
Booking link: http://www.polkatheatre.com/whats-on/moomins