String Theatre’s inventive mix of puppetry and magic lantern entranced audience

String Theatre’s charming adaptation of Charles Kingsley’s novel is a delightfully whimsical version of what is frankly dubious source material, thankfully borrowing more Lionel Jeffries’s film than Kingsley’s sombre satire damning child labour.

Using an inventive mix of puppetry and magic lantern, the company quickly and wisely moved on to Tom’s escape from his master Grimes into a magic kingdom populated by exotic and eccentric creatures. Given that Tom’s time up the chimney required the marionettes to do much walking and climbing, it’s unsurprising that it was the latter sea bound half of the production that worked best. As Tom mixed with the fish and the fairies, gliding through the water, he (and his puppet incarnation) came to life with a fluidity that suggested the puppeteers themselves were more at ease.

I wonder at how much of this quirky, diffuse story the very youngest children absorbed, but using forced perspective, multi-sized puppets, elaborate staging (and a really sweet dog), String Theatre brought a cinematic quality to their letterbox sized stage that had the adults in the audience entranced, not least (should you have cared to look) by the shadows bouncing off of the Corn Hall ceiling, of the puppeteers frantically at work.

David Vass