A Tiger’s Tale

Reviewed by Flossie Waite
An M6 Theatre production
Reviewed at Lyric Hammersmith
Touring until April 2018
For ages 4-11

M6 might be the only theatre company in the world named after a motorway. Nineteen years after the road opened, they began touring shows around the communities of north-west England found on its route. Now happy to venture further afield, M6 are in their 41st year, and their latest show is all about nomadic artists. Rather than theatre-makers traversing a highway, A Tiger’s Tale centres on the lives of travelling storytellers. Written by Mike Kenny, the Olivier Award-winning playwright with decades of experience writing plays for children, it’s no surprise that this show is tightly written and charming.

Photo: Lewis Wileman

A Tiger’s Tale is all about how we construct and tell stories, perhaps giving a glimpse behind the curtain at what makes this company and this playwright leaders in their field. The protagonist storytellers demonstrate very different temperaments: when faced with an audience – the most sought-after commodity for any storyteller – one of them responds grumpily. He’s bored of telling the same old tales (props from Cinderella and other fairytales are glumly thrown back in the dressing up box) and he doesn’t want to create a new story along the same old lines. Nothing set in space or in the future, nothing about princesses or dragons. He wants to celebrate the quotidian. So we meet Ma, Pa and Titch, an ordinary family drinking an ordinary cup of tea around an ordinary kitchen table.

Pa’s a window cleaner who unfortunately fulfils only one of the key job requirements: he’s great with heights and balance, but he’s not very good at cleaning. Once he and his family realise their talents are better suited to acrobatics, they join a travelling circus in Africa – but if that seems a surprising turn for this ‘ordinary’ family, it only gets more so once they return to their small English village with a tiger in tow.

The three performers oscillate between their roles as creators of the story they’re telling, and their characters within that tale. Jumping from bickering over the narrative’s merits and direction to ingeniously reconfiguring their travel gear into props (an old shawl and a tricycle, for instance, represent the growing tiger cub Ella), they keep up a running discourse on stories: are they to make ordinary lives more exciting? Or to seek moments of recognition and empathy in the everyday? Must they follow established ‘rules’ to satisfy the audience, or are the rules there for breaking?

It’s a sophisticated exploration of storytelling which deconstructs and plays with narrative, performance and character. But rather than descending into pretentious post-modernism, A Tiger’s Tale contains plenty of entertainment: Derrida fans may stroke their chins, but it also includes a man balancing a ladder on his chin. The show prompts giggles aplenty whilst also raising interesting questions, such as the tension between realism and fantasy. One storyteller demands that their narrative be ordinary and everyday, enraged by its flight into a fanciful tale of acrobatics and a pet tiger. His concerns are thrown into relief by the show’s final twist, however: sometimes the most surprising stories are true.

There’s value in kitchen-sink realism, but what if there’s a real tiger in the kitchen sink?

Children’s Theatre Reviews exists to help plug the gap in criticism and writing about theatre for young audiences. It is run entirely voluntarily, and needs support to continue covering and supporting the sector. For more information and to help give children’s theatre the voice it deserves, please visit our Patreon page.

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