Chester Tuffnut isn’t just any old treemole, but the only tree mole in existence. Residing in Woodland, Chester pesters all his inhabitants to accompany him on adventures and learns some animal etiquette along the way. Chester likes to live life on the edge with exuberant skate-boarding, tempestuous tree-climbing and general recklessness.
When the doors of the theatre opened, the children were welcomed into the magical up-cycled wooden woodland by the puppeteers Professor Hironimus Boffin, Kill Joy and Rowan Root. The adventure land theatre is sensory filled with texture: grass-like carpet, captivating lighting and bird song. The children were instantly absorbed in the world of Woodland. Once Chester had been located and awoken, the Professor attempted to tell us about Woodland and all the inhabitants in it, with much interruption from Chester who wasn’t to keen on letting him speak. The children found this hilarious and the room was filled with laughter as this naughty little treemole tormented the professor. The fifty-minute show consists mostly of more misbehaving on Chester’s part and several encounter with different animals in Woodland.
The main focus of the set (designed by Robyn Wilson-Owen) was a large tree constructed of mismatched planks of timber, which housed many different animals from ants and bats, to owls and snails. Each animal was meticulously constructed and they were all in puppet form. Each individual puppet was a work of art, engineered to assimilate each animal – their characteristics and movement. The snails were circular papermache shells, with what appeared to be a sock as the head and neck of the snail; very simple, effective and intriguing. The kids were all very taken in with Chester and the other animals, as the puppeteers were fast paced, with high energy to keep attention and to keep the story flowing.
Chester Tuffnut is aimed at ages between 2 –5 and gauging from the audience, that was roughly the age group that were there when I attended. Although the children seemed interested for the majority of the time, I would imagine that if there had been more audience participation the children and the adults would have felt more involved and perhaps have become more invested in Chester and the animals. The plot was quite weak in that Chester helped to restore confidence to Pippy the Bat in her flying capabilities. The kids didn’t really seem all that impressed and neither was I. With only fifty minutes, it is a short amount of time to build up a relationship with a character, but there were a lot of chances to engage the children and develop Chester, that were missed. Perhaps the character being slightly incomprehensible and speaking though baby talk may have put them off as I know that I found it quite irritating.
Overall, I thought it was an enjoyable experience. The set was filled with depth, the puppets and puppeteers were impeccable, but the plot let the show down. Polka Theatre is a wonderful place to bring your children and they will no doubt have a educational and fun afternoon.
Chester Tuffnut is playing at The Polka Theatre until the 14 of August. To find out more, see The Polka Theatre website.