The Theatreguide.London Review
Almeida Theatre Winter 2007-2008
The Almeida Theatre's first go at a holiday family show is this adaptation by Moira Buffini of Catherine Storr's 1958 novel. And while it does suggest that the book may be a real children's classic, it is somewhat less successful on its own terms as a theatre piece.
In book and play Marianne is a ten-year-old stuck in bed recuperating from a serious illness. She draws a picture of a house, only to dream herself into the scene.
Everything she adds to the picture when awake appears in her dreams, including a crippled boy whom she helps through her drawings to get better, until both must escape from the monsters she accidentally added to the picture.
Meanwhile she hears from her home tutor of a polio-crippled boy whose real-life recovery seems to parallel the dream story, just as the ups and downs of Marianne's own health are symbolically reflected in the dreams.
Adapter Moira Buffini, director-choreographer Will Tuckett and designer Anthony Ward have attempted to capture the book's fluid travel between realities in a mix of acting, movement-to-music and cartoon-like projections - and it doesn't quite work.
No one style is held to long enough or consistently enough to feel natural - the not-quite-dance sequences in particular seem uncomfortably thrust in from some other show.
No attempt has been made to create a sense of Marianne as a real ten-year-old, or even as a real child, Buffini (or perhaps Storr) giving her such stilted dialogue as 'There's something about them so cold, so malignant, so cruel' and Selina Chilton playing her with the slightly scary perkiness (and veiled patronisation) of a Blue Peter presenter.
The difficulty the play has in establishing any reality, solid or magical, leaves too much time for the audience to notice little peripheral flaws. Are ten-year-olds now, or were they in 1958 taught about obtuse angles and polyhedrons, as Marianne's tutor does?
Are the hints of romance between Marianne's mother and the doctor (summarily shot down in a throwaway line near the end) meant to be real, Marianne's misunderstanding or her unconscious wish?
If, as I guess, the monster stones that menace Marianne and Mark in her dreams are tombstones symbolic of their threatening real-life illnesses, mightn't that have been made a wee bit clearer (or, if my guess is wrong, might the stray hints have been eliminated)?
There's too much of a neither-fish-nor-fowl feeling about this staging, and its biggest success may be in leading kids back to the original book.
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