'Skitterbang Island' – Polka Theatre and Little Angel Theatre
'Skitterbang Island' is an entrancing idea: a play aimed squarely at young children (aged 3-8) featuring colourful characters and sets, and an original opera score. For many this may be their introduction to both disciplines, and could even be one of their earliest encounters with the theatre arts, period. The artists are thus in a position of great importance in these children’s lives. Do they rise to the challenge?
'Skitterbang Island' follows the story of a young girl and her uncle, a pair of jolly musical travellers, who become separated when their boat is hurled upon a rocky shoreline during a fierce storm. Alone for the first time in her life, the young girl wanders about lost and afraid, until she encounters a most peculiar beast with an obsession for collecting driftwood and scrap. The beast, after some prompting, introduces himself as Skitterbang. Meanwhile, the uncle desperately searches for his niece. What will happen when all three finally meet?
The star of the show, and one of its strongest elements, the Skitterbang puppet is a fabulous creation. Appearing to be the product of a loving if unorthodox marriage between a rabbit, a bat and a lizard, Skitterbang hops, flits, flies and frowns across the stage. Little touches, such as a seldom employed but dramatically potent unibrow function, really help bring him to life. The other puppets are fine, but don’t quite stick in the memory to the same extant – perhaps in part because Skitterbang is such a scene-stealer. I do remember a rather stunning cameo by what I think was a giant stoat, who regrettably departs from the narrative once he’s served his helpful function. What was his story?
Mention must be made as well of a finely realised set – featuring screens for shadow-puppetry, hidden corners and piles of bric-a-brac that Skitterbang has collected over the years. I felt I could spend the entire running time happily exploring its depths.
The opera music is charming, light stuff, delivered with confidence by the performers who also operate the puppets. I gained the impression that both singers were reigning in their voices a bit, probably due to the limited confines of the Little Angel Theatre space, which may not be conducive to the powers of a fully trained opera-singer.
The only slight flaw in the whole proceedings is that, despite being only about 45 minutes in length, the plot feels a bit sparse. The girl gets lost, finds Skitterbang and then… well, not a lot else, really. This seemed to suit the young audience I saw the play with, who seemed entranced, but accompanying adults might feel just a hint of impatience. Still, with music, lights and friendly monsters, 'Skitterbang Island' surely deserves a lot of credit for inviting children into so rich a world of multiple art forms, and doing such good a job of it.
Polka Theatre and Little Angel Theatre