This half term Monstro and the Little Angel Theatre present The King of Nothing. It’s a high energy version of Hans Christian Anderson’s ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, reimagined as a musical and with puppets: lots of puppets!
King Reginald is vain – obsessed with how people view him and massively influenced by the media. He’s determined to have the most stylish, up-to-date outfit possible for his birthday parade. But when two swindlers arrive at the palace and offer to make him an extraordinary, expensive suit he gets less than he bargained for.
This a slapstick, funny production, with real Vaudevillian style. Gilbert Taylor and Karina Garnett do an excellent job as the two swindlers, Tina and Gerald – and all the other parts as well! Silly and upbeat from the start, they are impressively multi-talented: they puppeteer, sing, act, play musical instruments, all whilst building a friendly rapport with the audience.
Ben Glasstone (who we recently interviewed) doubles up as both writer and composer, and his music is a highlight. Yes, one or two of the songs perhaps run on slightly too long but some beautifully gentle moments give welcome breathing space amidst the anarchic world of the swindlers.
There’s plenty of joining in to be had, which has the kids laughing out loud (particularly at the naked King!). They clap along and enjoy some panto-esque call and response. Taylor and Garnett make great use of the auditorium, striding cheekily amongst the audience. But expect the unexpected and don’t trust swindlers with your stuff!
In further panto fashion, it’s a show that has something for the adults as well as the children. The story has clear references to today’s society, with King Gerald concentrating on his own indulgence whilst overlooking social issues of hungry families and the rising price of electricity. With swindlers telling the story, we’re left constantly in doubt as to what is true and what’s not (sounds familiar?). The King’s reliance on the fickle media to form his opinions also demonstrates how people can be manipulated into believing absolutely anything!
This all plays out cleverly with the use of puppetry, which itself creates an unspoken agreement with the audience that they will suspend disbelief as objects come to life. However, we’re then somewhat unsettlingly in an atmosphere of multiple doubts, questioning what’s real and what’s not on several levels, and whilst playful to most, this confusion might be a bit of a big ask for the lower end of the 5-11 suggested age range.
There’s loads to like about this production, but be prepared for it to be full on, with a fair few character changes to keep track of – sometimes from puppet to human. There’s also an unfortunate pacing choice to close the show, with a delightful but balladic song that pulls down the energy that’s just been achieved by the swindlers outrageously leaving the palace.
That aside though, it’s all in all great fun for half term and beyond (running to 20 November) with something for all the family and interesting questions to take home and discuss: if not about politics and the media then definitely about the colour of your pants!
Original story by: Hans Christian Anderson
Adapted by: Ben Glasstone
Directed by: Steve Tiplady
Music by: Ben Glasstone
Lighting design by: Kate Hounslow
Set, costume and puppet design by: Alison Alexander
Produced by: Little Angel Theatre and Monstro
The King of Nothing plays at Little Angel Theatre until 20 November. Further information and bookings can be found here.