Until a few years ago, the Moomins were just a memory: I had vague recollections of watching a cartoon about a family of creatures who looked like marshmallow hippos when I was very little. It feels like author Tove Jansson’s creations remained best known and most beloved in her native Finland up until fairly recently, but the centenary of her birth in 2014 changed all that. Since then, the Moomins have been everywhere: from the egg and Horse + Bamboo’s Moominland Midwinter, to Polka Theatre and Royal & Derngate’s Moominsummer Madness, to the interactive, immersive Adventures in Moominland exhibition at the Royal Festival Hall. Moomin merchandise has popped up in bookshops and gift shops across the country, true confirmation that the characters enjoy the kind of cult status shared by Miffy, Bagpuss and Peter Rabbit.
Though the Moomins appear on everything from TV screens to tote bags, Get Lost and Found’s Mischief and Mystery in Moomin Valley focuses on where it all began: Tove Jansson’s series of books. The journey from page to stage is more literal than most adaptations: central to the show’s charming, inventive design is a huge pop-up book (created by Annie Brooks, who also made the puppets), the characters springing to life from its leaves as 2D paper puppets, each page turn offering a new backdrop faithful to the original illustrations. In a set full of surprises, this is not the only way we meet Moomintroll and his friends, nor encounter the world of Moomin Valley. The suitcases that surround the huge book open up too, with a carpet of flower-covered grass tumbling out of one, and snow-topped trees emerging from another, revealing the characters as full-sized, 3D puppets.
Though the performance is not based on one of Jansson’s original stories, it feels familiar. Mischief and Mystery in Moomin Valley cycles through the seasons in Moominvalley: a story tinged with melancholy and exploring loss, materialism, and nature, and featuring the sweet and sensitive Moomintroll, his deadpan friend Little My, the philosophical wanderer Snufkin, and the inseparable Thingumy and Bob, who can’t help getting their words in a jumble. The interactive experience is part-show, part-workshop, led by Stuff and Nonsense (played alternately by Sophie Powell, Annie Brooks, Emma Edwards and Katy Costigan), a funny double-act who have the young audience laughing and involved before they’ve even walked through the auditorium door.
The show shifts back and forth between performance – telling the story of the Moomins through puppetry – and participation – as the audience is encouraged to imagine themselves in the environments the story travels to. Stuff and Nonsense are such magnetic performers that it’s hard not to miss them when they fall silent (the characters’ voices are pre-recorded) and become expressionless as puppeteers, in order to focus the audience’s attention on their puppets. On the whole, though, Mischief and Mystery in Moomin Valley is a beautifully-realised, charismatically-led event, able to both command energy and captivate attention.
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