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Posts Tagged ‘Julia McKenzie’

Stiles & Drewe are one of Britain’s most underrated musical theatre creators. This was their first (proper) show, staged here at the Watermill some 30 years ago. Both Julia McKenzie and Cameron Mackintosh championed their early work (McKenzie directing and Macintosh producing the premiere of this). McKenzie went on to direct their next show, Honk!, a surprise winner of the Olivier Best Musical Award (beating Mamma Mia & The Lion King!) after it transferred (also from Newbury) to the NT.

Mackintosh has remained their theatrical godfather, commissioning them to successfully refresh and renew Mary Poppins and Half a Sixpence, though other lovely shows like Soho Cinders and Betty Blue Eyes have had less success. I’ve seen it twice before (Tricycle 1990 and Tabard 2010) and now it’s back at the Watermill, this time in the garden, given our ongoing pandemic caution, and I’m delighted to report its a treat all over again.

Based on Rudyard Kipling’s Just So stories, we follow the elephant child, accompanied by the flightless kolokolo bird, in search of the giant crab, who is causing floods by playing with the sea. Along the way, we meet a rhino, zebra, wildebeest, giraffe, leopard, jaguar, crocodile, kangaroo and yellow dingo dog, and visit the parsee man on his island. A wise old magician acts as our narrator.

It’s amazing how these (mostly) animal characters are created through costume colour, a scarf here and a hat there, hair made to look like a mane and some stripes on the arms, in Katie Lias’ brilliant homespun design. As is customary at the Watermill, nine talented actor-musicians play all of the instruments as well as all of the characters, human or animal. It works brilliantly in the theatre’s lovely garden, animals able to spill out from the stage and roam around the audience. Abigail Pickard Price’s staging is as delightful as the story and Stiles’ catchy songs and Drewe’s witty lyrics work their magic.

An absolutely lovely afternoon, not to be missed, whatever your age!

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