We hauled up the anchor, started the engine and sailed away on a sea of make believe in the unusual setting of the Lantern Room in Bristol’s Colston Hall. Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain is a Bristol Old Vic and Wardrobe Ensemble co-production aimed at pre-school and young children with many under the age of two in the near packed audience. Some needed a bottle part way through while most were so transfixed by the story they wanted to take part.
Directed by Helena Middleton and devised by the company and based on the book by Edward Ardizzone, the drama follows Tim who wants to be a sailor and runs away to sea much to the resistance of his parents.
The cast of Emily Greenslade, Jesse Meadows, Kerry Lovell and Ben Vardy performed a neatly crafted play that utilised every aspect of the skills of performance. Dance, movement, song, music, mime, puppetry, physical theatre and clowning all blended into a narrative that was easy to follow for the older children but also allowed the youngest to be involved.
The five star show is a delight from start to finish quickly engaging the audience even before the production began with Little Tim sitting in his bath splashing and washing and talking to the children as they took their seats. Throughout the drama the audience are drawn into the story helping to become the sea, to create gale force winds and do all the tasks Tim is given on board ship to do by the Brave Sea Captain. The set is an excellent piece of work by designer Ruby Spencer Pugh and built by Sam Chafer featuring a step ladder construction that doubles as the ship’s bridge and holds many of the props. Using a flat wooden performance square as a thrust stage the play features some exquisite moments of theatre with the sea creature sequence and the storm capturing the imagination with beautifully inventive props, lighting, sound and movement.
The only hitch with the production is the audience becomes so excited by the story that they want to join in giving the ushers, parents and teachers a constant job of getting them to re-take their seats. Few productions for adults can ever enthuse an audience so dramatically as this in what can only be described as a problem of success. Little Tim played by Jesse Meadows and the captain played by Kerry Lovell are given huge energy, excellent diction and wonderful movement while the duo were aided by Emily Greenslade and Ben Vardy who switched effortlessly from seagulls to sailors, and from parents to jelly fish in a seamless triumph of a show.
This review was originally published in Children’s Theatre Magazine.