The Adventures of Curious Ganz

Reviewed by Flossie Waite
A Little Angel Theatre and Silent Tide co-production
Playing at Little Angel Theatre until 21st October 2018
For ages 7 – adult

We’re living in a world of litmus test moments and watershed moments: there’s just no let-up from the seemingly seismic events that occupy our newspapers and newsfeeds.  I’ve tried to mute it (I’m re-reading Harry Potter, and regularly blocking people like Jeremy Clarkson on Twitter), but it’s all still taking up so much of my brain space that it’s basically impossible not to draw on that deep well of despair when consuming art. So, basically, this is just to say: sorry, I watched an utterly charming, incredibly elaborate, thoroughly transporting wonder of a show, and couldn’t help but think about Brexit.

And is it any wonder, really, when Little Angel Theatre and Silent Tide’s co-production is about the pursuit of knowledge leading to freedom, in contrast to the inhabitants of an island governed, and trapped, by ignorance and the fear of unknown monsters beyond its borders? Based on the true life of 16th century copper smelter Joachim Ganz, the narrative is cleverly told through the show’s design, the central feature of which is a large circular frame. Ganz observes and investigates everything he can within this space – from the caterpillar to the stars, the chicken to the egg – until his curiosity takes him beyond its margins, to England and Queen Elizabeth I, who is equally curious but confined by her skirts and her station.

The Prime Minister – a Michael Gove wannabe with a dislike of experts –  throws Ganz in prison for telling Lizzie that the world is round. It is flat, he insists and that is that – no one can leave England because the sea runs off the end of the world into oblivion. Knowledge threatens established order, and the Prime Minister’s understanding of the world and his place in it: “We should all be fearful of what Ganz says”. But the Queen’s adventurous spirit sees Ganz slipped out of jail and sent on a trip across the globe: “Be my eyes”, she commands.

There’s something so affecting about the image of the Queen, waiting atop the layers of Elizabethan life unfolding beneath her, all of them kept firmly within the frame’s boundaries, while Ganz’s ship sails off to find adventure and opportunity. A whole nation held hostage by misguided beliefs and fear of the unknown: it’s hard not to be reminded of Theresa May’s recent policy announcement to end freedom of movement “once and for all”.

But The Adventures of Curious Ganz is not serious and sad: in these dark times, it is just the light that we need. Though based on Ganz’s true life, the story takes a fictional, fantastical flight into whimsy that is completely delightful. Just as delightful are all the little items that create puppet Ganz’s 16th century world – piles of little texts and tomes, a little magnifying glass, a little guinea pig… if you’ve ever enjoyed a Tiny Kitchen video, you’ll love this. This is a masterful and enchanting production: The Adventures of Curious Ganz, described as being “wildly based on the principles of alchemy”, uses puppets and props to create gold.

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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