Review by Flossie Waite
Presented by Big Window Theatre
For ages 3-5
Mike Kenny has argued that ‘from the late ’60s to the early 80s’, children’s theatre was in a much better position than it is currently. Until the widespread funding cuts, theatre-in-education was flourishing across the country. Big Window Theatre’s production feels like the revival of one of Kenny’s TIE productions born during those happier days. In fact, I was surprised to learn that One Finger, One Thumb is a newly-created piece, freshly touring this year. Rather than feeling old-fashioned, however, it proves that when done well, there is plenty of space still for this type of theatre.
When special doll Baby Small gets lost, Ruby and Dad try to find her by tracing their steps all the way back to Grandma Tabby’s house. Things that seem fun at first are soon seen from Baby Small’s height – a puddle could be a sea if you’re small! Ruby and Dad learn to walk in Baby Small’s shoes, swimming oceans, crossing snowstorms, and wandering through deep dark woods.
Having reviewed a few of Kenny’s plays previously, there is plenty to recognise here: a strong structure, the poetic, unpatronising language, and empathy as a major thematic concern. What I had never seen from the playwright was a participatory piece – it’s not just up to Ruby and Dad to find Baby Small, the audience have to help too. The thrill of being on stage never gets old, and by the end, even the most reserved children have ventured eagerly into the playing space. The true mark of success, however, is the audience’s overall investment in the story, visible as they gradually begin contributing without any nudge from the performers, copying actions and calling out for Baby Small.
Whilst this show is undeniably earnest, it works incredibly well. One Finger, One Thumb is unlike anything I’ve seen recently, but maybe it’s a good reminder, as children’s theatre rushes forward, that it’s OK to look back.
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