A Real Fairy Story

Review written by Flossie Waite
Presented by Ripstop Theatre
Lyric Hammersmith
Touring until 26th April
For ages 3-7

With children’s theatre, concepts and motifs fall into fashion. As sudden as the shift from flared jeans to skinny (and sometimes as random), similarly-themed shows will start popping up across the country, as though trend-setting theatre-makers decide what will be a la mode a year in advance, timing their ACE application results to coincide. (Obviously, it’s a lot more magical than that – a mixture of collective consciousness, reflecting the changing world, and focusing on ideas and experiences familiar to children). Ripstop Theatre’s A Real Fairy Story is like other recent shows (particularly The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean and Once Upon A Snowflake): detective-style stories told by ‘experts’ in the field, requiring the audience’s help as they try to find a fairy, sprite, or teeny, tiny person. These all tap into the desire of many current, and former, children to befriend – or at the very least, see – an otherworldly creature, but A Real Fairy Story has a pace too slow for keen fairy-finders.

Amelia Buttersnap (Zannie Fraser) is an expert on fairies – she has bought all the cutting-edge fairy-detecting technology,  built a tiny house to welcome them, and written a book all about them. A book with spaces where the pictures should be, mind you, because she has never actually seen – let alone photographed – a fairy. When one does turn up, it promptly flies away before she can take a picture, stealing all the book’s words to boot. Turning to her cat Tibbles for comfort, Buttersnap is dismayed when he disappears too. The search is now on – for the fairy, the cat, and her writing!

An early highlight of this production is the fairy’s initial arrival – magic from Fraser makes it fly across the stage, sassily bust open a fairy magnifier, and empty a book of text in front of our eyes. Expecting more of this, the momentum stalls as the focus shifts to Tibbles the cat, and what feels like a whole new story, told through a new medium – shadow puppetry. The play’s plot has one too many turns: the fractured focus making it hard to really get behind each quest, and requiring wordy explanations that don’t sit well with the younger audience. Framed as it is, the beautiful shadow puppetry disconnects the audience from the character they have spent time building a relationship with.

A Real Fairy Story is overloaded with a wealth of great ideas, but without the time or space to really make them all fit and flow. If detective-fairy-tale-type-stories are the “new black”, A Real Fairy Story has an abundance of good material which just needs to be tailored.

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