Once upon a time there was a girl called Sophie and her brother Andy. They were called into the dream land Somnia to get the dreamstone and save the world.
It is now 20 years later; Sophie is back in our world but her brother got left behind. Plunging us into what seems like a sequel, Box Step has captured the spirit of high fantasy very well, giving characters names like Onyxis, Amastris and Sack Face. All the requisite elements are there: plucky children, backstory, evil queen, magical object. Once Upon A Nightmare synthesises these with an earthy sense of humour, so the play begins with Sophie locked in a psychiatric ward with Harry Potter, Dorothy from The Wizard Of Oz and Peter Pan’s Wendy. “There’s no place like home,” Dorothy, played by a man, repeatedly shrieks out the window.
In fact, for a family show the writers (Michael Clarkson, Paul Clarkson and Gemma Hurley) keep a persistent dark undercurrent running through the story as characters die and families break apart; a fairly convincing case is put forward that the children of our favourite works of fiction are delusional.
Alongside the live action, to the side of the stage, are creepy, eerie animations by Justin Williams and Lucy Colgate, all smoke and shadows, depicting the land of Somnia and the magical portal between worlds.
The story owes a great deal to fairy tale and fantasy, with nods to Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia and Jumanji but with the DIY aesthetic of 80s fantasy films like The Neverending Story (whose theme tune plays at the beginning) and Labyrinth. The monsters are made out of hessian and feathers and look fantastic – particularly Onyxis’ towering plumed headdress.
Towards the end the scenes are short, so there is a lot of shuffling of actors on and off stage, but the plot builds towards an exciting finale. Box Step Productions has created a dark and fantastical world in which to remind us not to stop dreaming. Because if you do an evil nightmare queen will take over the world.
Once Upon A Nightmare is at Laughing Horse at the Counting House (Venue 170) until 24 August. For more information and tickets visit the EdFringe website.