'The Tinderbox' – Norwich Puppet Theatre
Hans Christian Andersen's ‘The Tinderbox’ is told very clearly in this Norwich Puppet Theatre production, utilising two engaging performers, music and many different kinds of puppets. Possibly too many in fact. The main character – the Soldier – is a carved wooden puppet about a foot high that moves loosely and whose wooden legs knock agreeably on the rotating wooden palette set.
Then there are objects, puppets made from objects, humanettes, Chinese dragon-style dogs, shadows, animated films, live-feed sand animation, projections on costumes, projections on a drum... It is imaginative and rich but at times feels like a parade of different puppet styles. Wood is the dominant material and perhaps should have provided a design constraint for greater coherence.
The performers have a pleasing complicity with each other and with the audience, and their young, attentive public seem to enjoy this. There is a song at one point, and a dance at another, expanding the theatrical language of the piece even further. Seonaid Goody's characterisations are occasionally a little shouty (the Witch) or squeally (the Queen) but she has deliciously expressive hands, which are put to particular good use in her portrayal of the Witch.
The show deviates from the original in a few details – no one gets properly killed off in this version, which is a shame. The Witch 'isn't really dead' and the young couple flee to the other side of the world on a dog's back at the end, instead of usurping mummy and daddy, the King and Queen.
My companion, Danny (aged six), likes the humanettes that play Mr Queen and Mr King best. He finds the dogs a bit creepy when they first appear, as I remember finding them when I read the story at his age. But he enjoys the part where one of the dogs, now embodied by a Chinese dragon-style puppet, chases the King, as do I. As a child I loved imagining the eyes as big as millwheels and as round as towers, and I have to admit that, while clever, the two round projection screens that become eyes at one point didn't quite work for me.
My favourite bits are almost incidental. I like the matter-of-fact little bluebird who flies South refusing to take the Princess with him and I love the moment of glee after the Witch's head is severed, which both dissipates and revels in the horror. Although this is a rags to riches, ordinary-guy-gets-his-princess kind of tale, it is also strange and full of twists and turns with many themes that children will relate to subconsciously – bravery, generosity, misplaced vanity, cruelty, the value of dreams and the fact that everything changes constantly.
Norwich Puppet Theatre on tour
Staged at the Little Angel Theatre