Landscapes at Birmingham Hippodrome
 

 

meerkats

Sunrise in the desert and the meerkats emerge for a new day

Landscapes

A Tent

The Patrick Centre

Birmingham Hippodrome

*****

No matter how sophisticated video games become or fantastic the special effects from Hollywood’s CGI factories, they will never ever compete with the greatest creator of SFX of them all, the imagination.

And Mimika Theatre exploit that with a show that is just brilliant in its simplicity. Bill Parkinson, a once upon a time PE, human movement and English teacher, and Jenny Ward, a former drama and special needs teacher, create stories without words with a few projected silhouettes and a collection of puppets along with that priceless ingredient – a child’s imagination.

Yet despite puppets which owe more to Blue Peter that War Horse in their construction, they are remarkably effective even, for example, when children are told and shown before the start that the realistic snake is a vacuum cleaner hose covered in fabric and painted with a head at one end and a point at the other. The snake still created a shudder of excitement when it appears – imagination at work again.

tent

Have theatre will travel. The Mimika tent

And all in a tent? The tent makes for an intimate audience, certainly, but it is virtually a theatre in a bag, have stage will travel, allowing Mimika to set up in school and village halls, libraries, community centres, indeed anywhere there is enough space to pitch their tent – even in a theatre.

Children enter Mimika’s enclosed world with its sounds and music, lighting and puppets all with no outside distractions.

And what a world there is to discover. The set is almost like a giant sideboard which, as the tale unfolds, reveals secret doors and panels as animals from four very different environments appear. 

First we have desert with a whole family of meerkats, the desert mongoose, popping up from scattered holes with regular flights by a passing bird of prey hunting for food to feed a newly hatched chick.

We see snakes, a realistic scorpion – with legs made of lolly sticks we were to discover later – a giant lizard and that hunting bird . . .and the chick does get fed so some creature is not going to make it to the end . . .

Next we travel to a rain forest with a crocodile protecting eggs in its nest, our vacuum hose snake, tarantulas, a monkey – or ape, we never did see his tail – butterflies and a flamingo – revealed later to have a vacuum cleaner hose neck and an ingenious arrangement of lolly sticks holding everything together.

Add UV lights and we are in the ocean surrounded by tropical fish, seahorses and turtles as well as a rather evil looking conger eel or some similar predator of the deep. Finally, we head for the South Pole and the hatching of an Emperor penguin with fans adding a cool breeze of authenticity.

That might be the end of the show but not the performance as Bill and Jenny appear and ask the children which puppets they would like to know more about when Bill’s remarkable ingenuity in creating puppets is revealed. For example, amid the lolly sticks, doctored gardening gloves, vacuum hoses and the like we find a 50p colander with the rim removed to allow the linear ribs to spring in and out with the help of a wooden handle and string. Add lacy fabric with strips as tentacles and in UV light you have a very realistic looking jellyfish propelled by – remember the stick and string - a pulsating bell.

Toucan

Toucan and lizard deep in the rain forest

Ingenious perhaps sums up the whole performance. Jenny and Bill met at college in Leeds and started the company in 1981, first with mime and clowning, touring first by public transport, then a motorbike and sidecar, then came the tent and the puppets, and since the inception the shows have told stories without words which makes them universal not only in terms of language but also in comprehension.

Which means Mimika have performed around the world from China to Canada, Singapore to San Antonio, as well as in special schools, which is one of the reasons it started.

We bombard children these days with images, graphics, special effects, often more style than substance, as if more is somehow better, yet here with clever puppets that anyone can attempt to make at home, given a spare vacuum hose and boxful of lolly sticks, modest silhouette projections, evocative sounds and music and basic lighting, a tentful of children were enthralled from beginning to end, excitedly pointing and naming animals as they popped up, out or appeared.

The show is elegant, full of charm and a delight to watch with a deceptive simplicity which belies the year or so of work, thought and hidden sophistication that goes into each production.

My grandson is six, and this was his 31st production so he is a quite seasoned theatre goer, and let’s be honest, children’s theatre is aimed at him, not me, so his verdict counts more than mine and his view was that this was one of the best shows he has seen, and I can’t argue with that. A little gem of a treat for the school holidays. It's storytelling at its simplest, and kids loved it. Aimed at children aged four to 11 - under threes will not be admitted by the way - Landscapes runs to 12-08-17

Roger Clarke

09-08-17 

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