Although based on the book by Julia Donaldson and David Roberts the premise for The Flying Bath is remarkably similar to the TV cartoon Wonder Pets – a group of animals (played here by the bath toys) receive phone calls and go on adventures to help other creatures in distress, demonstrating the benefits of teamwork and kindness. In Samantha Lane’s excellent adaptation of the tale, however, the toys are now ably assisted by a pair of siblings playing in the bathroom, brilliantly performed by Kat Burke Johns and Mark Esaias.
Lane’s version is actually far better than the picture book, elevating it to be suitable not just for toddlers but also for slightly older children, yet losing none of the fun and colour of the original. It has layer after layer of interesting sensory and imaginative engagement that makes the whole wonderfully enjoyable, whilst encouraging young viewers to look at the contents of their world differently.
A simple story of two children going for a bath becomes a series of adventures which explore well beyond the bathroom. As the children’s imagination brings the toys to life, they travel off in a flying bath to resolve water-based emergencies across the globe. The characterisations are all round delightful, from the quacky duck to the muddy pig – there’s a favourite here for everyone. The children themselves are played amusingly as both friendly and fractious, but ultimately ready to work together.
It’s a clever production, quietly offering interesting information about habitats and environment and asking subtle questions: Who uses water? What happens if you don’t have it? How is it used? – all very current in a time of ecological fragility, but never intrusive or worthy. It explores the characteristics of animals and the natural world from the slow turtle to the buzzy bee, to the endangered baboon, interrogating the qualities of mud or desert, and doing so with fabulously sensory content and loads of fun.
It’s also a visually gorgeous production, with designer Emma Tompkins using a vibrant, appealing palette that seamlessly crosses the world of artificial toys with the colours of nature. Subtle use of lighting by award-winning designer Sherry Coenen moves the audience’s attention gently around the bathroom, evoking multiple global environments encountered by the toys. The puppets, created by Naomi Oppenheim, are delightful, perfectly capturing the aesthetic of Robert’s illustrations. The wider puppetry is then fabulously innovative, reimagining everyday objects in a way that is enabling for small audience members beyond the theatre: they might be inspired to act out their own stories and look at their own world in a wider context if all they need is a shower hose for a snake, a towel for a tree, or find that a pair of rubber gloves will put fire in their hands!
The show is audibly exciting, with Dominic Sales’ terrific soundtrack setting the right pace for each episode, and the wonderful rhythms and onomatopoeia of Donaldson’s poetry acted out in superbly synchronised movement from Burke Johns and Esais. It’s made tangible, with glorious bubbles floating from the tub, but also through the evocative imagining of squishy mud, dry desert and of course the water itself.
This was not a quiet audience today. It was an audience of giggling, gasping, joyous youngsters who bopped along to the music, shrieked with enjoyment and engaged fully with each adventure. They were completely hooked as the 45 minutes shot past, not a second of it wasted, and were buzzing as the show drew to a close. If The Flying Bath is a first introduction to theatre for your children you really can’t go wrong.
Adapted and Directed by Samantha Lane
Set and Puppets designed by Emma Tompkins
Lighting designed by Sherry Coenen
Music by Dominic Sales
Puppets made by Naomi Oppenheim
The Flying Bath is aimed at ages 2-5 and runs at Little Angel Studios until 23 April. Further information and booking details can be found here.