On first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Marvellous Imaginary Menagerie is a show for children, but this explosion of fun can be enjoyed by audiences of all ages. It is packed to the brim with colourful costumes, fun props, jokes, audience interaction, puppets, music and silliness; yet the cleverness of the lyrics and script gives the show a level of maturity that allows it to be accessible for adults as well as children.
The show tells the story of the Imaginary Menagerie, run by Dr Longitude (Maxwell Tyler). Accompanied by his trusty assistants Flora Bakewell (Alice Bounce), Plum Lemon (Lydia Hourihan), Woodrow Gobble (James Keningale) and Popo (Owen Jenkins), the team acts out for the audience the stories of how they discovered all of the imaginary creatures that are now part of the menagerie. The fact that the animals are make-believe, named things such as bumblewasps and trisillian toads, gives the show that feeling of infinite possibility and imagination, transporting you (if you’re an adult watching) back to the childlike feeling that anything is possible.
The narrative allows for a lot of exciting visual elements that, along with the silly stories and songs, keep the children entertained. The show includes confetti, feathers, fake snow, plastic balls, balloons and water guns, all making sure the piece is interactive and the audience is included in the fun. Actors run into the audience and at one point they even get an audience member up on stage to play one of the characters, contributing to the feeling that we are all telling the story together.
A particularly golden moment happens when the cast stand there in silence for a few minutes (in memorial of Dr Longitude’s father) and you can hear the children in the audience laughing and shouting things at the actors. The whole thing could afford to be louder, as the Roald Dahl-style lyrics are very clever and intricate, so it is a shame that at a few moments they can’t quite be heard. There is also room for the ending to be a bit bigger. Many times throughout the piece there are great music and dance numbers, and I would’ve welcomed another big one at the end to conclude the show.
It is clear the actors are thoroughly enjoying themselves, and the energy is high throughout. They work very well as a team, and although the piece has an aspect of it that feels random and spontaneous, great attention to detail has clearly been paid to choreography and direction. This ensures that the narrative is clear and interest is maintained. The actors are hilarious in their delivery, and lots of laughter could be heard – particularly after lines from the loveable and yet rather clueless Popo.
At only an hour in total with no interval, the show is a good length to keep audiences entertained but not outstay its welcome. You are guaranteed however to have the ‘Imaginary Menagerie’ theme tune stuck in your head for a long time after you leave the theatre!
The Marvellous Imaginary Menagerie is touring the UK until 10 April. For more information and tickets, see the Les Enfants Terribles website. Photo: Les Enfants Terribles.