As a teen fan of Sir Michael Morpurgo’s novels, a big lover of puppetry and a writer/performer of children’s theatre, this sounded like the perfect show for me. Unfortunately, it was rather disappointing.
Playwright Stuart Paterson adapts Morpurgo’s beloved children’s novel and brings it to stage for Adam Small’s directing debut. The story stays true to the book and focuses on a boy named Michael and his daring tale. We set sail on the Peggy Sue with Michael, his adventurous parents, and of course their sheepdog, Stella Artois. Beautiful sails adorn the stage and a wicker basket is used as a steering wheel. All set and props are turned and shifted to be reused: first the boat, then the thick, jungle island Michael wrecks on.
The puppets looked stunning (strangely, not the ones advertised on their flyer), made from simple material, mostly leg-less and roughed up in all the right places. The orangutan’s eyes were so deep and emotive and their movement was spot on. This allowed some fun and games with the baby Kikanbo that I and the young audience would have preferred more of. Sadly due to the staging and the seating arrangement most of the audience could barely see these beautiful puppets. They were always positioned very close to the ground which meant the fourth row and up had to crane our necks to catch a glimpse.
The shadow puppetry was a beautiful addition. Very detailed figures and colours transfixed the crowd. But it was all over very quickly. It bought our attention and the time to slow down and story-tell was then. This became quite frustrating, considering all the time spent on less interesting sections. The decision was to draw out the family scenes and the first few days on the island, not Kensuke’s origin story.
James Jip as the voice and puppeteer of Kensuke really shone. His voice embodied what I’d always imagined and his believable character development really saved the show for me. Aaron Douglas, despite his repetitive lines, managed to capture the perfect level of young energy and excitement for Michael. Even during the moments of fear, his warm presence could reassure the young audience.
As a small note, the music and sound volume was way too loud. Little audience members covered their sensitive ears as Jenny Agutter’s lovely voice screeched over the sound system. It appeared that we were supposed to be hearing actors onstage over the din, but all lines were lost. I also felt it was a missed opportunity to raise money for the endangered Orangutans.
My main issue however, was I was unsure what age this was for. It was too over-explained for adults, but too slow and stale for young children. Twenty minutes could have been easily cut and would allow for a more captivating experience. This had so much potential and so many beautiful moments but the structure and direction let it down.
Kensuke’s Kingdom runs until the 27th of August – https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/michael-morpurgo-s-kensuke-s-kingdom
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