It’s Christmas Eve and young Mouse and his family are on their way to Grandpa’s. Outside, snow is falling. But this family show isn’t heading where you might expect. It’s been adapted from Piers Torday’s book and – in typical Torday fashion – is a dark and wild adventure. There’s a horrible accident, genuine tragedy (that had me in tears), straight-talking animals and a very silly singing minstrel. It’ll have your children excited and just a little bit scared, bursting with questions about life and death they might never have found a way to ask without this special story.
Barb Jungr and Samantha Lane have retained all the eccentricity and complexity of Torday’s book and have also woven in some delicate songs. Mouse (Stacey Read) is a young girl in this stage version and as she ventures through the forest, in search of a castle and her missing family, her songs sound brave and hopeful but fragile and haunting, too.
Judith Hope’s puppets are both utterly convincing and fantastically magical. Mouse’s toy horse is transformed into a lifesize companion: plush and purple, velvet and grand. The talking sheep looks as if he’s skipped straight from a nearby field and, as Mouse nears the end of her quest, a wizard with a spinning head provides one last visual flourish.
The cast works incredibly hard, jumping between multiple roles, controlling countless puppets and carving out carefully calibrated moments of comedy, pathos and fear. As director, Lane uses the space with real skill and even opens out the back of the theatre. It’s here that an increasingly worried Grandpa makes a series of calls to the police. The young audience swivel around as one, anxious not to miss a moment of their story.
There May Be a Castle is at Little Angel theatre, London, until 23 January.