Sophie Russell as Winnie with Anne Odeke, Ed Thorpe and Maimuna Memon. Pictures: Graeme Braidwood
Winnie and Wilbur
Birmingham Rep Studio
Winnie and Wilbur is a new play by Mike Kenny, based on the popular children’s books by Valerie Thomas, illustrated by Korky Paul.
Directed by Liam Steel, Winnie and Wilbur’s world of magic is transformed into live action to tell the tale of Winnie is the witch and her cat Wilbur.
We are told that it is soon to be Winnie’s birthday and Wilbur suggests that she throw a birthday party for the special occasion.
As the day looms, we see Winnie and Wilbur’s preparations to make the party the best it can be, ready for all of her closest friends and family to join her on the special day.
The show is accommodating in every way. While being completely interactive for children, the odd joke or two pitched to the adults in the audience gives an inclusive and welcoming atmosphere for all.
Sophie Russell as Winnie with Ben Thompson as Wilbur.
The cast are sublime showing striking talents in the performance arts. There are e wonderful examples of puppetry, great harmony vocals with choral singing to enhance the performance, as well as creating a top-notch band, playing a multitude of instruments.
We see the cast use guitars, violins, the piano and an accordion to provide the live background music to each scene. Their on stage professional skill gives the show that dose of magic to create a wonderful and imaginative story.
Ben Thompson shows excellent skill with puppeteering as Wilbur the cat. He vocally embodies the colourful character for the enjoyment of the young audience and his commitment to the animation of the show leaves a tender and sweet mark.
While manning the puppet, Thompson gives a more than realistic impression of the feline. In every ounce of his performance, he carries the cat-like essence, as if a real cat could be there on stage. Together with Winnie the witch, played by Sophie Russell, the pair ignite the imagination of the audience to bring the original stories to life.
The rest of the cast adds to the magical flourish of this bright and animated production. Rob Castell, Maimuna Memon, Anne Odeke and Ed Thorpe play the additional parts of Winnie’s family members and people of the community, blending wonderfully from one character to the next. It is fast paced and enticing which has the audience mesmerised.
Sophie Russell as Winnie and and Ed Thorpe
With the addition of Rachel Canning’s beautiful design, bright colours and extravagant costumes add to the magic and imaginative world of the witch and her cat. Natasha Chiver’s lighting design is an excellent aid in telling the story and allows the audience never to be lost in the fast paced action.
Technically, the cast are brilliant, the production sees them on stage constantly, as they change each scene, costume and character in front of our eyes, making it all look as effortless as possible.
The company, excellent puppeteers, create some memorable images. A sequence where Winnie flies on her broomstick is impressive and entertaining. A simple ladder on wheels is enough to make our imaginations believe that Winnie is flying in the air and a costume of a helmet with a fan propeller attached to the top becomes a helicopter in the sky.
It is a bouncy and imaginative piece, sparking a fun and invigorating sense of happiness. For children, they are made to feel as if they are part of the party and are welcomed by the whole company. For adults, we are reminded of a simpler time and immersed into a care-free and sweet environment. To 22-04-17.