When it comes to writing theatre reviews, I’ve always been of the opinion that you should speak the truth. By that, I don’t mean that the majority of reviews are filled with lies – far from it. I’m talking about the difference between a written commentary and the conversation you have down the pub after curtain down.
How many theatre reviews have you read which are at pains to mention every member of the cast, as well as the props man, the lighting director et al? Lots, I’m guessing. And can you recall the slew of critiques which, albeit in a subtle form, cast some shared glory back onto the reviewer? This may come in the form of “well, the last time I saw Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard at the Old Vic in ’82” or “while X’s Lear was serviceable, it was no match for Pryce at The Swan”. Godammit, I loathe that kind of self-satisfied, self-congratulatory prose.
But I’m not attempting to denigrate the team effort that goes into a theatrical production, nor am I trying to play down the benefit of experience which seasoned critics can bring to a review. I’m simply saying that, to my mind, a large number of so-called experts either cut and paste the programme or spend too much time talking about themselves rather than the show at hand.
Which brings me to WOW! Said the Owl at Manchester’s HOME. At this point in time, I haven’t read any other reviews. But I’d bet my Christmas Pudding on the fact that a fair few have fallen prey to the points raised above. OK, so this is a production for young children, but the same rules apply, namely, what was my gut reaction?
Parental bad behaviour, that’s what. For the love of god, why do some mums and dads treat a short half hour in a darkened auditorium as time off? Yes, WOW! Said the Owl is aimed at two to five-year-olds so a restless audience with a short attention span is a given. Well, it is if you include the adults.
From the dads who spent the entire time looking at their phones to the mums who allowed their toddlers to run up and down the stairs throughout the performance, that will be my defining memory of WOW! Said the Owl. Which is a shame as this puppetry adaptation of the award-winning book by Tim Hopgood is entirely charming.
As puppeteer, Nix Wood is, much like the owl, innocence itself. There is ingenious use of the simplest of objects, and a soundtrack by Dominic Sales that soothes the soul. It’s as faithful to a early years children’s book as it’s possible to be, as well as imbuing the stage work with its own character.
My only grievance is Wood’s volume. Such is the popularity of this book – and the well-deserved reputation of Little Angel Theatre – that the majority of performances are sold out. That’s a lot of naughty parents and young children. I was pretty near the front and even I missed words and verses amid the albeit fairly low hubbub.
But the most important review of WOW! Said the Owl must go to my four-year-old niece, Scout. Once she had fortified herself with a jam brioche snack, she declared: “I really loved it.” And you know what, for a show aimed at little people, that’s the only opinion that matters.
By Helen Nugent, Editor of Northern Soul
WOW! Said the Owl is at Manchester’s HOME until December 31, 2016. For more information, click here.