Review by Flossie Waite
A National Theatre Production
National Theatre’s Temporary Theatre
12th November 2015 – 2nd January 2016
For ages 3+
A couple of years ago, there was a big to-do when the National Theatre’s 50th anniversary gala included only one female playwright, bringing attention to how often women writers have been overlooked throughout its history. How can the National Theatre only represent half the nation? critics said. Imagine a world where there was a similar uproar about the lack of children’s theatre included. “Sure, War Horse was in there, but that was it!” the bloggers would have cried. “Over the past five decades, just look at how few productions were aimed at people under 18 years old. There are over 11 million children in England – you can’t forget that part of the population!” I Want My Hat Back suggests that this parallel universe might be much closer than it seemed in 2013 – the National Theatre is, finally, taking children’s theatre seriously.
Jon Klassen’s picturebook is used as a springboard, rather than a blueprint. The show retains the deadpan humour, minimal dialogue, and bizarre atmosphere of the text, but brings it to life with colourful movement (bunny’s genius skip-walk makes both complete, and no, sense) and underscores it with a jazzy beat performed by reindeers wearing shorts and braces. Arthur Darvill’s music is central to the production – when Bear’s (Marek Larwood) hat is stolen, he is very choosy about the accompanying soundtrack, demanding the band cycle through songs until one properly captures his mood. The rabbit’s (Steven Webb) crazed joy and boundless love for the thieved headgear are exposed through frenetic rock song and wailing ballad.
Fly Davis’s set seems straight out of Abigail’s Party – all brown, beige and orange, with potted plants and patterned fabric, a thick rug cleaned with a vintage carpet roller, and a general seventies vibe. Perhaps it’s the retro, homely feel that lulls the audience into a false sense of security, because I Want My Hat Back has a surprising (and bloody) climax that even lovers of the original book won’t expect. Don’t worry, though – it is surreal rather than scary, with every inch of comedy squeezed out of the hour’s playing time.
The suggested age range of 3-300 is absolutely on point, and serves as a timely reminder that good theatre for young audiences is good theatre for everyone. Here’s to the National Theatre’s centenary gala, when (fingers crossed) things will be very different.
Image by Richard Davenport.
Follow Children’s Theatre Reviews on Twitter @ctheatrereviews