The Pleasance Theatre in Islington played host to a whole menagerie of animals in Red Table Theatre’s production of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories. The stage was set with cupboards, trunks, chairs and other bits of furniture, as well as bits and pieces of junk that you might find in an attic at home. This helped to create a cosy, easy feeling to the production, aided by the Snuggle Pit (a softly cushioned area for the children to sit on) though there was proper theatre seating available for those too mature to sit on the floor.
A highly talented cast (Andrew Keay, Charlotte King, Clare Ashton, Emma Connell, Freya Parsons and Helen Victor) used every skill of physical performance, accent and vocal work, and the myriad props that scattered the stage, to create the compelling world of the featured stories – The Crab That Played With The Sea, How The Camel Got His Hump, The Cat Who Walked By Himself, How The Whale Got His Throat and The Elephant’s Child.
The stories were interspersed with songs taken from the Just So Stories book sung a cappella by the company. As children’s television has proved, throwing in songs to break up the dialogue is always a good idea and it worked brilliantly in this performance.
The language remained true to Kipling’s original stories and was delivered clearly and energetically by the performers – you never felt that they were talking down to the children or that the children weren’t grasping what was happening, which is a delightful change from many Theatre In Education productions. They maintained an excellent balance between entertaining the adults and keeping the children’s attention for the hour-long performance. The children get a little fidgety by the third story, but they remained mostly well-behaved and quiet, a sure sign of a successful show.
The creative team behind the production have a sound theatrical background which is why it is no surprise that this production is so effective, engaging and inventive. It was surprising to discover it was their first production (the company was only formed last year by Piers and Rafe Beckley who produced and directed respectively) but it was such a tour de force that they can only go from strength to strength.