Review by Flossie Waite
A Norwich Puppet Theatre Production
On tour from September – December 2015
For ages 3+

Anyone who thinks children’s theatre is just fluffy fairytales for the under-fives should take a look at Norwich Puppet Theatre’s latest production: Who am I? What am I? Where am I? are just some of the big questions it poses for little kids. However, big ambitions and even bigger demands on its performer/ designer/ maker Gretchen Maynard-Hahn, mean this one-woman adaptation of Joyce Dunbar’s picturebook, Oddly, never quite settles on the stage.

Charlie feels lonely living in the big city, so decides to create some new friends with a chemistry kit in his bedroom. When the experiment goes wrong and the creatures escape, the search to find them takes him to a mysterious and multi-coloured forest (by way of an existential crisis).

The world begins in 2D – the city, puppets and props all seem to be made of paper and cardboard, all in drab black and grey hues. The set gives Charlie his Dorothy-leaving-Kansas moment by cleverly switching to reveal a forest every bit as vibrant and beautiful as Munchkin Land (mixed with a sortof Charlie Chalk meets Alice in Wonderland vibe). In fact, it is this big, but relatively simple, reveal that is the most breathtaking moment in a production filled with clever but fiddly ideas. Things that are technically harder to do – like Charlie getting the creatures he has created to perform tricks – aren’t worth the effort, particularly as they prove tricky to pull off effortlessly by a single performer.

Visually, the difference between Charlie’s friendless life and the magical world he slips into are plain to see. The performance style, however, needs similar variety, especially in distinguishing the voice and tone of narration and the different characters. The production retains the slow, quiet pace set out in the opening scenes, which does lend a thoughtfulness to Oddly that befits it’s philosophical tone. However, as the obviously talented Maynard-Hahn has to focus her efforts on every aspect of the performance (a complicated costume change means an empty stage, for instance), it all ends up feeling very remote, and separate from the audience. Oddly lacks the energy to lift the story from the page.

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