Jessica Harris watched Slot Machine Theatre’s production at the Midland Arts Centre.
Packed with feelgood entertainment and gentle humour, this festive piece is well-pitched for young children, its warmth and energy carrying it through even where it occasionally lacks polish. And it comes with some lovely educational snippets as a bonus.
Like the cover of a book, the stage curtains – with the title One Snowy Night projected onto them – open up to reveal the entrancing world of Percy the Park Keeper, complete with rustling leaves, flying birds and birdsong.
Then it snows, and the park is transformed into the interior of Percy’s hut, cosy bed and all. It’s not just Percy who is keen to get indoors. A knock at the door, and he is joined by shivering squirrel looking for somewhere warm to sleep. Then another knock, and another, and another. Rabbits, fox, badger, ducks, mice, hedgehog and, finally, mole, all seek shelter from the cold.
The animal puppets are large versions of cuddly toys, more or less in proportion to their real life counterparts. The larger animals, such as fox and badger, work well and are clearly visible on stage even when not in the hands of a puppeteer. Once all the animals are inside, set and props are put to effective use to position the puppets, and we get a real sense of the little hut alive with furry creatures.
But there was something of a missed opportunity to ensure that all the puppets, including the smaller ones, were visible as the parade continued to arrive. The joy of Nick Butterworth’s book, One Snowy Night, is the sight of all of the animals crowded into Percy’s bed before they spill out across the hut, and we didn’t quite get that from this production.
The show makes great use of humour, physicality and mime, although was let down a little by the singing. There are some lovely moments which young children will surely connect with: the challenge of getting dressed, when your clothes end up on you – but not in quite the right way; the comfort of hot chocolate at bed-time – but don’t forget to clean your teeth afterwards. And the magic of the first snowfall of winter.
Nick Tigg and Nicola Blackwell are co-artistic directors of Slot Machine Theatre.
One Snowy Night is on at MAC until 28th December. Further information here.