In the colourful world of Bow-On-Tie, boys must be boys and girls must be girls. There are hundreds of rules about what you can and can’t do, as commanded by the evil mayor Croc Madame (Lisa Maria Berg). Defying the laws of the land, Abigail (Alice Devlin) and Henry (David Tims) are best friends, even though this is totally forbidden. Henry wants to bake and Abigail has ambitions to become a rocket scientist. As the children start disappearing, Abigail takes it upon herself to solve the mystery, leaving gender stereotypes in the past and saving the day.
The characters in Anna Marshall’s production are hyper-animated and larger-than-life form the moment the audience enter the space. Tims charismatically plays at the keyboard, engaging with the youngsters and setting them off with some necessary giggling. We’re invited into the story by our narrative-figure Little Croc (Roxanne Browne), and the world of the library soon comes to life in front of us as cardboard cartoon cut-outs expand from the book pages. The role of the narrator seems a little odd in this production, just because we’re then also introduced to Abigail who acts as a sort of secondary narrative figure who we follow through the story with. Little Croc — with hilariously speedy costume changes — pops back in from time to time and acts as a useful bookend to conclude the tale with its moral, but at times the character itself, though played wonderfully by Browne, feels like an unnecessary addition with interjections that distract from the action.
Lively movement from the ensemble throughout the show sees words appearing in the sky as they sing out a tune with glorious harmonies to the sprightly music. The songs aren’t always super catchy, but they do an apt job at moving the story along in a pacey manner and doing so with musical-theatre flair.
Berg as the wicked child-eating Croc Madame offers the standout performance, as she scrunches her face and wiggles her eyebrows to create a constant stream of ever-changing facial expressions and poses. Devlin’s centipede fingers are also a particular highlight.
The story does take a little while to kick off and it feels a little stretched to fill the sixty-minute slot. We could probably do with being introduced to the villain a little earlier, and the observation from Abigail that children are going missing is a core crisis in the world of this play that could be used to create a heightened sense of worry in the town. But overall, this really is a delightful piece of children’s theatre with an important political message at the core, and the little ones in the audience certainly seem to be enjoying themselves.
Mustard Doesn’t Go with Girls is playing Pleasance Courtyard until 23 August, as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.