I really cannot deal with hats but, hypothetically speaking, if someone stole mine I’d like to think I’d hunt them down to the ends of the earth and destroy them. I Want My Hat Back deals with this bleak and upsetting subject fabulously and, by golly, it generates some intense anger from the audience who had been dancing manically in the centre of the room much to the delight of their mothers 20 minutes earlier. A kid’s show this may sound and effectively be but, as it advertises, really is for ages three to 300.
Five actors are dressed as an array of animals for 55 minutes, telling the story of a bear (fantastic Marek Larwood) who has ‘lost’ his hat. There’s an insane, tap dancing rabbit (Steven Webb), a fox and snake (Natalie Klamar) and tortoise (Pieter Lawman), as well as cleverly timed foliage (the three above).
The National’s Temporary space is an intimate area that has been lovingly transformed with warmth and dedication by Fly Davis. It has the comforts of your living room and the delights of something that has shot out of CBBs, whilst being nostalgic for those who have hit puberty. There’s a lot of bouncing around and a fun educational air about the movements of the actors with some excellent moments from Lighting Designer, Beky Stoddart (it’s all about the red). I Want My Hat Back is not technically a musical, though some singing is included, as well as a reindeer attired three-piece band (Richie Hart, Adam Pleeth and Oliver Birch) that attribute a musically-arranged narrative by Arthur Darvill.
It’s hard to entertain both children and their parents in a genuine way, as well as those in between. There’s some dark and especially one shocking moment that could very well have backfired terribly but instead is an absolute sickening highlight. The overall tone is silly and very dry with some fantastic imagery, aided by a very talented cast that react to the kids extraordinarily.
Definitely one of the best pieces I’ve seen at the National for a long time, Wils Wilson has brought Jon Klassen’s book to a devoted and brand new audience that most certainly couldn’t have asked for any more. Larwood is a very confident performer, who relaxes perfectly into his role and Webb’s appearances as the ethically-challenged rabbit brings much laughter. The rest of the cast are all fantastic. Whoever thought a kid’s show could be so deliciously evil?
I Want My Hat Back is playing the National’s Temporary Theatre until 2 January. For more information and tickets, see the National Theatre website.