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The Boy and the Seahorse from Interabang Productions has been created for Assembly Room Theatre and Durham Gala Theatre’s weekend festival ‘Onstage:Online’. It’s a family friendly piece recounting the folktale of how a boy became the legendary seahorse rider in the River Tyne, heroically protecting seafarers and riverside workers from danger.
Couched within a dramatised telling of the story, somewhat like Jackanory, the subject matter engages sympathetically with historical aspects of the North East of England. Our narrator (Benjamin Storey) introduces himself as a lamplighter, or leerie, in the time that electricity was becoming commonplace – he is expecting to be put out of work soon because of its arrival. The seahorse is explained to be the symbol of the city of Newcastle. The tale is told using a series of animated scenes, which are pleasingly put together using digital shadow animation, accompanied by a delightful soundtrack that makes good use of traditional seafaring music and shanties.
Although it is a pleasant piece of work, as part of a theatre festival I suspect it would benefit from the inclusion of some manual shadow puppetry so as to make it feel less like a film. It does seem somewhat ironic, given the story’s initial emphasis on the threat from technology to the lamplighter’s job, that this is largely a digitally animated production.
Storey tells the tale nicely, but too often we are left looking at the top of his head as he reads from the book; it would be much better to perform looking to the camera. A number of inaccuracies also distracted my attention from the production; why does he have an electric lamp on his desk if electricity is still domestically unavailable? Where is the mother walking in cloisters if she hasn’t left her little house? And seahorses don’t actually have scales, do they? A little more attention to detail in the narrative would be beneficial.
Small issues aside, this is though a visually attractive production, and an admirable attempt to celebrate the history and culture of the North East. A lot of work has clearly gone into the digital side of things, but a better dramatic balance would surely result if the same amount of effort was given to the live aspects.
Written and performed by: Benjamin Storey
Directed by: Ryan Dewar
Produced by (for Interabang Productions): Rachel Flynn
Vocals, Melodica & Accordion by: Matthew Nicholson
Digital animation & Post Production by: Ryan Dewar
Music and lyrics by: Benjamin Storey