Pros: A captivating display of marionette theatre in a brilliant and bizarre setting.
Cons: Despite their skilful telling, some fables are drawn out a little bit too much.
Anyone hoping to discover new moral truths at Movingstage’s The Hare & the Tortoise & other stories might be left disappointed. Most of the stories, along with the morals they offer, would be as recognisable to any children in the audience of The Puppet Theatre Barge as they would be to the adults. Slow and steady wins the race. Pride comes before a fall. Gnats can be very annoying. However, it is in their telling that these ancient fables continue to be exciting and engaging; familiar though they may be, their presentation here, in this beautifully realised family show, is wholly captivating.
It’s difficult to think of a better setting for these stories than this small but perfectly formed venue, moored (for the moment) in Little Venice. Old marionettes from former productions hang languidly from the walls, looking almost like they might reanimate at any moment. Occasionally, ripples from passing boats gently rock the theatre and remind us where we are. Meanwhile, the puppeteers set to work taking us to a different world.
Each of the different animals in these stories brings its own charm to the various tales, through both speech and movement. The fox, along with its marvellously oversized bushy tail, was a particular hit with the audience, and its appearance drew laughs from all sections. The rather pompous and pathetic gnat, who becomes ensnared in the spider’s web and exclaims ‘woe is me’ after being captured by ‘the most inconsiderable of insects’, was a personal favourite. The only slightly underwhelming figure is the monkey, whose swinging and flipping looks clunky, and doesn’t really justify the amount of stage time it’s given.
The pacing of The Hare & the Tortoise reflects the essence of its central fable: slow and steady wins the race. It isn’t at all rushed, and so it’s a credit to the skill of the puppeteers that the play doesn’t lag or become dull. Despite some of the tales being stretched out, the intricate movements of the marionettes, along with Rory Allam’s musical motifs for each, and the soothing voice of Rudolf Walker as the narrator, hold the attention of adult and child alike.
The show is punctuated by an interval, which is well placed and perhaps necessary given the diminutive nature of the venue (especially for any taller members of the audience). It gives you a chance to perch on the outside of the boat and enjoy the atmosphere of Little Venice, and watch younger members of the audience totter dangerously close to the edge of the canal. The second half of the show begins with two shorter tales, the morals of which are a bit harder to grasp, before finishing with the most recognisable fable of them all from which the show takes its name.
These are fables we all know, presented expertly in a venue few people are aware exists. However, despite only running for just over an hour, The Hare & the Tortoise left me feeling calm, refreshed and thoroughly entertained. The whole experience was oddly life-affirming and, somehow, irresistible.
Author: Juliet Middleton
Producer: Movingstage Theatre
Box Office: 020 7249 6876
Booking Link: https://www.puppetbarge.com/Controllers/show.php?id=12
Booking Until: 9 July 2017 (Little Venice), 1 October 2017 (Richmond)