The Bor­row­ers

To­bacco Fac­tory

Bristol Post - - NEWS -

TO­BACCO Fac­tory The­atres have well served Bris­tol fes­tive au­di­ences over the years, in­clud­ing one bona fide the­atri­cal master­piece in Sally Cook­son’s Olivier award-win­ning Cin­derella.

Alas, not every show can have Cook­son and not every show can fly, and so it proves with The Bor­row­ers, which res­o­lutely stays grounded.

If the slow-burn­ing piece picks up mo­men­tum and in­ven­tion as it goes, for those with an ear to the ground its rhythms are slightly off, its pac­ing creaky.

The work­man­like ef­fort starts at its source. Adap­tor Bea Roberts, whose splen­did Lit­tle Mer­maid at the Egg last Christ­mas spun Hans Chris­tian An­der­sen tale into modern rel­e­vance and gave a kick-ass 80’s sound­track to boot, reigns it in and pro­duces a rel­a­tively faith­ful adap­ta­tion of Mary Nor­ton’s 1952 orig­i­nal tale.

The edge and drive that was so ap­par­ent in Bath has been blunted a lit­tle here.

So the story of Pod, Ar­ri­etty and Homily, lit­tle Bor­row­ers who live un­der the floor­boards of the house of the prim and proper Mrs Driver, and the un­likely friend­ship that forms be­tween Jes­sica Hayle’s young Ari­etty and the big boy who goes to stay with his Aunt, Ed­die, is told with a straight bat and with just a side dol­lop of whimsy.

All the set pieces that a cer­tain gen­er­a­tion will re­mem­ber best from the BBC show are here, from the threat of a hoover to the fi­nal Rat­catcher scene as the lit­tle fam­ily are threat­ened with ex­tinc­tion. These are staged with some in­ven­tion by di­rec­tor Nik Par­tridge, the vac­uum cleaner scene and in par­tic­u­lar, a mov­ing crisp packet is par­tic­u­larly niftily done.

De­signer Rosanna Vize has cre­ated an ad­ven­ture play­ground within the con­fines of the stu­dio, two lad­ders hang­ing from the rafters which the fam­ily oc­ca­sion­ally clam­our on, though the cost per climb ra­tio makes you won­der if it could have been put to more fre­quent use.

The per­for­mances are per­fectly ad­e­quate. Si­mon Armstrong, a fine clas­si­cal ac­tor, with many year’s ser­vice to Shake­speare at the To­bacco Fac­tory, is a re­lat­able nar­ra­tor as the adult Ed­die look­ing back on his past, com­fort­able in his in­ter­ac­tions with the au­di­ence, but lack­ing a front man’s charisma when he picks up a gui­tar and sings. Hayles, Peta Mau­rice and Bris­tol favourite Craig Ed­wards are pleas­ant enough but not re­ally given any­thing to stretch them.

It’s left to the ever-re­li­able Lucy Tuck to come in and take the plau­dits, her Liver­pudlian Aunt, a real mon­strous high­light, bran­dish­ing her gar­ish pink hoover like a shot­gun.

Christ­mas shows are big beasts in the re­gional the­atre econ­omy and there’s enough here to sat­isfy over the month ahead. Yet the very best Christ­mas shows sprin­kle a lit­tle magic over pro­ceed­ings and that isn’t the case here. You can see the hard work and joins when re­ally it should ap­pear ef­fort­less.

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