The Hunting of the Snark (RSCCD)
This enjoyable show, 45 minutes long excluding laughter, was hardly typical of a student show in that it had a supremely professional director, the ubiquitous Steve Tiplady, and the collaboration and facilities of the Little Angel theatre in Islington, where it was rehearsed and first shown. It went on to tour in a few venues near London, and was thus well bedded-in by the time it got to the Chicken Shed, Southgate, at the tip of the Piccadilly tube line. Indeed, the standard of the production would have added lustre to any programming of children’s entertainment, not least because it appealed to the adults present too. It had humour, wit (in the puppetry as much as in the script), action and pace.
Four puppeteers (Seb Mayer, Freddie Hayes, Jo May, Jemima Hand, all with fine voices) performed and sang both text and music (specially composed by Sonny Brazil). If you don’t know the Lewis Carroll poem – and I don’t either – it was adapted here as a witty tale of piracy with a shiver-me-timbers Captain the character lead, whose best friend is a beaver. The piece is about the captain’s hunt for his lost beaver, also of course for the Snark, though nobody has a clue what the Snark looks like. Spoiler alert: in the end the Snark turns out to be a sort of twenty-toed sloth so ugly nobody cares to befriend it. The poor thing is hastily (too hastily, I thought) put aside in a box/trunk, never to be seen again.
The set was a careful arrangement of about a dozen boxes and trunks, whose open lids acted as screens to hide the players and, when not playing, the puppets. The latter scurried, jumped and hopped between the trunks most elegantly. Narration was spoken and sung by three or four attractive cloud formations, actually splendid headdresses made by Freddie Hayes, depicting the state of the weather. The pirate ship (a beautifully made galleon) made strange canine noises to indicate it was a ‘barque’, a running gag which tickled the mostly adult audience no end. Each student made his or her own puppet, and all four collaborated on the props.
All in all then, a very worthwhile trip to the edge of north London; the Chicken Shed theatre is a modern, lively community venue. The show undoubtedly has a future.
Chicken of the Woods Theatre in collaboration with Little Angel Theatre and the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama
Puppeteers: Seb Mayer, Freddie Hayes, Jo May, Jemima Hand
Composition: Sonny Brazil