Review by Flossie Waite
A Birdsnest Theatre production in association with Polka Theatre
At Polka Theatre 19th March – 8th April 2016
For ages 3-5
Different picturebook adaptations have different approaches – for some, the original aesthetic is so important that stepping into the auditorium is like stepping onto its pages. Others repeat the text so closely that there’s not much that separates the performance from a bedtime story. And of course there are lots of variations in between – companies doing the tricky artistic sum of adding and taking away until they are left with a production that, they believe, is inspired by the literature, but feels appropriate for the stage. With all these approaches it’s usually possible – if you haven’t read the book – to see the play and imagine what the book might be like. But Happy Harry’s Cafe takes a bold route – though the characters and story are all taken from Michael Rosen’s writing, it’s difficult to work backwards and envisage that original text (it was surprising, for example, to return home and find out that Harry isn’t usually a man but a giant white bear). This production is it’s own thing, and all the better for it.
Harry (Phil Yarrow) makes delicious soup, soup so delicious that regular customers come from all over to taste it. Wise to current cafe culture, Harry and waiter Charlie (Mikey Kirkpatrick) have no problem with their clientele using the eatery as an office and nursing the same bowl all day – Matt the Cat has been sat in the corner doing complicated maths for hours! Maybe that’s why he’s so moody… It can’t possibly be a problem with the soup – can it?
The cosy, atmospheric restaurant is immediately engaging, and the rows of glittering kitchen utensils act as percussion, props and puppets. Yarrow goes into a mad dash with each entering customer, grabbing different appliances to create the new character. Jo the Crow rides in on a bicycle fashioned from a whisk, Robin the Robin hops along on straw legs, and Ryan the Lion has a cheese grater for a torso. Each arrives looking for a bowl of soup, and each notices that Matt the Cat is off colour – there is a good level of structure without it all being too repetitive.
The real dish of the day though is the show’s music, written by the multi-talented Kirkpatrick (who at one point played the piano with his right hand whilst simultaneously playing the flute with his left!). Whilst ‘The Soup Song’ is the congratulatory climax of the book, there are musical numbers throughout the Polka production. Many of the songs revolve around soup – making soup, blowing kisses into soup, the aforementioned Soup Song, etc – and others introduce each customer, their style a suggestion of their character. Like tomato soup without a spoon, this production just wouldn’t work without the wonderful music. Birdsnest Theatre have cooked up a real treat.
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