War with strings attached

pupet of a soldier

A November Day

Malvern Theatres

*****

WE are rather spoiled for puppetry in Malvern, with frequent magical miniature shows at The Theatre of Small Convenience, the world’s smallest theatre, the proprietors of which we spotted amongst the audience.

Thingumajig Theatre’s A November Day is on a slightly larger scale, and uses a variety of types and sizes of puppet to tell its tale.

Created and performed by Kathy and Andrew Kim, and directed by Mark Whitaker, this production is aimed at ages 10 and upwards, but, with World War One as its theme, is engrossing for children and adults alike.

Created in 2008, the show is now touring Britain to mark the centenary of the outbreak of war. We follow the story of two brothers, one aged just sixteen, as they proudly sign up to fight for their country, then suffer the muddy and bloody indignities of the trenches.

A multi-talented pair, Kathy and Andrew bring the puppets and their story to life, incorporating gentle humour which helps to make this piece a pleasure to watch. They use various unusual instruments, sing, act, take on different characters, create sound effects and somehow make the story vivid without ever trying to conceal their own role as puppeteers.

There are moments of great sadness in A November Day, and it is a credit to the performers that they were able to move their audience so much with this simple but all too typical account of life and death on the edge of no man’s land.

POIGNANT

The mother’s words as she said goodbye to her two sons were all the more poignant for me as I sat in the front row between my own two boys. Throughout the play we were kept up to date with the fates of other young men from that one same street who had left their comfy homes for the cold and wet of a miserable field in France.

But the real test for A November Day was how it measured up to the expectations of the discerning critics to either side of me, one aged nine, the other thirteen. The younger wrote a list of positives as he watched: emotional, tuneful, made me feel happy, talented, thought through and cleverly presented, which he read out to Kathy as she chatted to audience members after the show. He was particularly impressed at the way props were used as one thing and then became another, and how the set changed constantly without disrupting the flow of the tale.

My other budding reviewer made a note of the ‘awesome marching and drumming’ near the play’s start, remarking on the acting talent of Andrew, and the ‘cool, odd instruments’. He also found the grumpy granddad cool, and noted that the whole production was educational as well as being interesting.

He was quite taken with the cheeky dog which appeared to make mischief in the trenches, and I think the bigger version of the dog was my favourite puppet and deserved more use in the show. We all loved the eerie no man’s land scene created by shadow puppetry, and my boys particularly enjoyed the drama of a shooting scene, portrayed with high emotion and empathy but no gore.

It was a great shame that audience numbers were not greater, and perhaps seven o’clock on a school night is not the best time for something aimed primarily at children. A November Day is a wonderful piece of theatre and I hope that Thingumajig Theatre take their work into schools to reach a wider audience.

At just one hour long and with World War One being studied in so many classrooms at the moment, this would be a fantastic way to allow children to look at some of the themes of war from a very personal and touching perspective, and to get them thinking and talking about the realities of war for those on the frontline, as well as volunteer medical staff and those left waiting at home.

A November Day had just one showing in Malvern but is touring Britain now and is well worth going to see.

Amy Rainbow

16-10-14

A November Day returns to the Midlands on 31st October at Walsall  Forest Arts Centre 0300 555 2989 and again on 13th November at Stafford Gate House  The MET studio  01785 254 653 

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