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Animations Online 36

REVIEWS: Winter 2011
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> Southwark Playhouse/Arts Collective, Howl’s Moving Castle
> Pickled Image, Travels With Granddad

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Southwark Playhouse/Arts Collective
Howl’s Moving Castle
Southwark Playhouse, London
12 December 2011

Reviewed by Emma Leishman

I think it is par for the course, nay almost mandatory, that a show programmed for Christmas time must have an essence of magicality to it. Howl’s Moving Castle, the first stage version ofDiana Wynne Jones’ renowned novel for young adults, adapted for the stage by Mike Sizemore, presented the audience with magical delight as soon as we entered The Vault at the Southwark Playhouse to come across a pop-up castle centre stage, theatrically lit, perfect for the environment we were in under the railway arches of London Bridge. Even though the publicity says this is a show for children of five years and older, there were no children to be seen at the 7:30pm performance, and I felt this was more of a ‘kids’ show for adults’, with its glorious over-exaggerated characterisations, and obvious puns you could sense coming.

David Ings, who played Howl, was one of the highlights of the production with his exuberant portrayal of a reluctant hero. His intense physicality and strong characterisation carried the production, and his interpretation of Howl is definitely worth the price of your ticket. The second reason to go and see this production is for Davy and Kristin McGuire’s deft design and impressive projected animation. Reminiscent of 1927’s The Animals and Children Took to the Streets, this director/designer duo projected images of the imaginary land of the story onto the aforementioned pop-up white castle cut-out – at times using more than 300 different images to create one scene. There was a whole 3D quality to the piece with the projection zooming in and around the landscape, giving the audience the feeling of flying as though we were in the castle itself. The mixture of live action, animation, and Stephen Fry’s melodic voice as narrator (and voice of the castle) makes for a winning combination.

The animation/projection is more than scenic – it also served to create characters additional to the live actors. Calcifer the fire demon (played/spoken by James Wilkes) was projected onto various parts of the set as either a face or an image of fire creating a presence without a physical body. This seems to be the next step for small theatre companies who wish to produce stories with multiple characters. Through using animation, the cast and characters can become more flexible, with actors voicing over multiple roles without need for expensive costume changes or expansive ensembles with two-line roles. I have a feeling audiences will start to see more shows like this as budgets get tighter, technology gets cheaper and directors/designers prefer to tour with smaller casts, simple sets and greater box office return.

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Pickled Image
Travels With Granddad
Jacksons Lane, London
13 November 2011

Reviewed by Isobel Smith

Granddad sleeps in an Arabian tent surrounded by intriguing artifacts from his travels. He is a big beautifully-crafted talking puppet sitting on his suitcase. Friendly and endearingly eccentric, he keeps the children transfixed with his tales.

A wedding dress stands in for a princess in a love story who sings and sings until she turns into a mini violin. A tiny drawbridge is let down from the grandfather clock and a little wobbly king emerges.
'I want, I want,' he exclaims, 'I want the most beautiful thing in the world.' The children are spellbound and laughing as he is offered beautiful girls, talented artists, a robin. The king remains unimpressed until presented with a crystal and finally, to everyone's relief, he is satisfied when the crystal begins to glow.

With the audience fully initiated into Granddad's world of storytelling, Pickled Image engages their help for the next adventure. The children's wonderfully imaginative ideas are spun expertly into an enthralling story by Granddad, (helped a little by the puppeteers!)  My companion Eddie, aged 8, was thrilled with this and soon all the children in the audience were howling with glee, taking great joy in naming all the characters, creatures and monsters in the emerging tale – and so the story of Six Steves became!

Pickled Image revealed at the end of the show that all the stories in Travels with Granddad had been devised by children in this way during their schools workshops. Wow! Wonderful puppets, props and staging combined with an enthusiastic audience to make this a delightful show for the whole family.

The train journey home was a breeze, with Eddie sniggering 'Remember when everyone was called Steve' all the way home. Nice one Pickled Image!

A postscript: Will the story of Six Steves be in the next show? asks Eddie.

Artwork by Eddie Gilvan

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