Polka Theatre, London (***)
Sue Buckmaster is something of a doyenne when it comes to the British puppet world and Theatre-Rites, the company she set up in 1996, coincided with her also starting her own family. Her work for them – 22 shows and counting – has reflected much of her experience juggling her career as a theatre director and puppeteer with bringing up a family.
Both are apparent in this charmingly inventive dance-puppet piece aimed at 3-6 year olds.
I took along two 4 ½ year old companions and their mother, my niece – not our first theatre outing with the twins; we took them when only two year olds, maybe not the wisest of decisions! – but I’m pleased to report that this time one of the two, sitting on the floor of the Polka’s welcoming theatre space, seemed glued.
Beasty Baby tells a simple tale – if not so simple when you’re living it – of child rearing from the first loving embrace of the new arrival, through nappy changing, sleepless nights to a developing clattering, bouncing toddler with a vocabulary made up of `No’, `Yes’, Again’ and `Why?’.
Told by three performers, John Leader, Sian Kidd and Zimbabwean mbira specialist, John Pfumojena, all three show a nice, easy sense of audience connection, musical showmanship and a bit of athleticism mixed with puppeteering skills when it comes to handling Beasty Baby.
As a round, gurgling, broad faced puppet, Beasty Baby turns out to be mischievous rather than naughty but as always with these puppet shows, it’s the magic of sleight of hand that takes over. We see him demanding more food, making discoveries and best of all from the young audience point of view, rebelling against parents. The more Beasty Baby says `No’, the more the young audience laugh and scream, clearly seeing themselves reflected. As do parents with the rituals and endless repetition of coping with a toddler.
Sue Buckmaster and her team add a delightful touch of snowy Scandinavian Nights atmosphere and décor. Yet an even wider appeal is introduced via Pfumojena’s African sounding mbira together with upturned beds that suddenly metamorphose into percussive instruments.
Nice, very nice rendering of the sheer humdrum repetitiveness of child rearing together with the joy of watching a small bundle develop into an individual with its own identity!
Beasty Baby runs at the Polka Theatre Jan 3, 2016
Review first published in Reviewsgate, Dec 2015 and slightly amended for here.