Review by Flossie Waite
Discover Children’s Story Centre
28th November – 24th December
Acclaimed children’s playwright David Wood has often said that the key to creating a great children’s play is “Lots of suddenlys!” One Snowy Night, then, is a perfect text to be adapted for the theatre, each knock on Percy the Park Keeper’s door a ‘suddenly’ that never gets old.
There’s been lots of discussion about immersive theatre recently – is the term overused, and does it actually mean anything? It’s definitely bandied about a lot in theatre for young audiences too, but One Snowy Night really earns the claim. Audiences walk into a wood with long trees, dappled light and a leaf-covered path; there are birds tweeting and a Keep Off the Grass sign, the walls are covered in watercolour versions of the book’s illustrations. Invited into Percy’s hut, everyone sits on carpets surrounded by lampshades, biscuit tins, The Zen of Cricket guidebook, drying socks, a coal fire, a wireless. This is not a half-hearted set – this is a proper cosy home with a roof, a bed and the most important feature of all – a door.
Percy the Park Keeper is going to bed one snowy night, when he hears a knock at the door. It’s squirrel, who wants to stay in Percy’s hut and out of the cold. Just as they are settling to sleep, there’s another knock at the door – badger! Percy welcomes him in and is ready to get back under the covers, but a constant stream of animal visitors means its soon one big sleepover, and he’s fighting for a corner of the duvet.
Stephen Harper is a commanding, relaxed Percy, receptive to the audience and creating the perfect atmosphere for a truly ‘immersive’ experience. The audience feel perfectly at ease guiding him, warning him, reminding him, pointing things out to him and, best of all, laughing at him.
Sam Dutton puppeteers all of the animals, and it’s a neat trick every time he tucks one into bed then magically appears at the door. He switches between all of their characters effortlessly – the old gentleman badger, the manic squirrel who trashes the joint, the shivering Welsh rabbits – and he and Harper have a lovely way of handing the puppets between each other.
It’s an awful cliche, but this production really values its audience, and understands how precious time is with young children at this time of year. All of the creative team have clearly worked their socks off, and it shows in the attention to detail of the set, the quality of the storytelling, and the magic of being inside a best-loved book.
The only downside is that it takes quite a while to settle everyone on the grass, and then there’s a lot more shuffling to seat everyone in the hut, but this does let you take a closer look at your surroundings. This adaptation has all the “suddenlys” of the original text to work from, but even when you think its all over, there are still some additional Christmassy surprises. One Snowy Night is not to be missed.
Follow me @ctheatrereviews