It’s such a pleasure to watch highly skilled performers at work, whether it’s Ian McDiarmid in his one-man show The Lemon Table or Ashleigh Cheadle and Sam Dutton in this adaptation of a Scandinavian folktale at the Sheffield Crucible Studio.
All three showed a great command of their craft and an understanding of their audience, which is important because theatre is a dialogue between performer and audience. You can’t have one without the other.
MacDiarmid’s audience were mostly people like him. Older, middle class, cultured enough to get the references to Sibelius and the ennui of a dying relationship. Cheadle and Dutton’s audience weren’t like them at all. Not grown-up. Not nearly grown-up. And probably had no idea what it’s like to live on an isolated farm or to get your breakfast from the animals you tend. Yet they were riveted.
The Pixie and the Pudding by Barb Jungr and Samantha Lane is a deceptively simple little tale. There is a farm on which Pixies live and, as long as they are given a Christmas pudding once a year, they keep everything on the farm hunky dory. So, when the old farmer retires, he leaves a note about the Pixies and the pudding for the new owner. But the new owner doesn’t believe in Pixies and doesn’t make a pudding, and everything starts to go wrong. His daughter hates the whole farming thing but she is fascinated by the idea of the Pixies. Just as they’re about to pack up and go back to the city she makes a pudding, and everything ends happily ever after.
Dutton plays the male parts and Cheadle plays the daughter. The duo also sings the songs and operate the puppets, which are the real stars. Beautifully designed and made by Lyndie Wright, the cow, the pig, the dog, the cockerel and the egg-laying hen delight the audience, but the boss is the Pixie, who is clearly based on Johnny Rotten in his Sex Pistol days. She is the first person we meet and pops up to make mischief throughout the show.
Another star is the design, brilliantly executed by Mila Sanders, which takes us from inside the cottage to the farmyard in a matter of seconds. Meanwhile, the music and songs by Jungr are age-appropriate and the whole audience loved the catchy singalong at the end.
The story and script are by Jungr and Lane, and Lane directs with the sure hand of someone who knows exactly what a four-year-old will understand and enjoy. There were three-year-olds present when I saw the show and they were rapt.
If I have a quibble, and my regular readers know I always have a quibble, it is that the show is advertised as being suitable for four to 11-year-olds. I would have said four to seven or eight was the core and older children would come to accompany their younger siblings. They’ll still love it, but 11-year-olds recognise a story for younger children when they see one.
If you have young children, take them to see this lovely play. You will be in expert hands.
By Chris Wallis, Theatre Editor
Main image: Pixie and the Pudding. Image by Suzi Corker (2019).
The Pixie and the Pudding is at Sheffield Crucible Studio until January 2, 2022. For more information, or to book tickets, click here.