If it ever feels as though you’re constantly losing things around the house, then you too might have Borrowers, says narrator Eddie, whose childhood memory provides the framework for Bea Roberts’ adaptation of Mary Norton’s well-loved novel. The Factory Theatre’s 360-degree audience configuration fits this production of The Borrowers very well, as Simon Armstrong’s friendly and paternal Eddie begins the show by addressing us directly and asking if we would be interested to hear the story of when he met a Borrower as a boy.
Armstrong’s suggestion is met with resounding approval, probably most of all from the youngest members of the audience. For those considering a trip to the Tobacco Factory, this is, first and foremost, a children’s play. Many of the stylistic decisions signpost this. Equally, the acting, although accomplished and engaging throughout, risks feeling a little like caricaturing at times. In the same way, certain moments in the production are not totally convincing, including the sequence ending the first half, in which our three Borrowers are sucked up into a vacuum cleaner. Nonetheless, there remains something endearing about the roughness around the edges of this production, and one only needs to scan the awestruck faces of almost all of the children in the crowd to recognise this.
In spite of its occasional limitations, one does not have to look far for elements of this production deserving of credit. There is some impressive physical acting, in particular from Jessica Hayles as Arrietty, who introduces herself to us hanging from a ladder suspended above the stage. Hayles captures just the right conversational tone in this scene, swinging from rung to rung and, at one moment, hanging upside-down, at the next lowering herself towards the stage along a rope lying against a pillar. Her charming longings for new food to try are delivered with as much nonchalance and poise as her acrobatic manoeuvres above the stage. Musical director, David Ridley, also deserves a mention for his soundtrack’s contribution to the overall tempo of the piece, although it must be admitted that some of the singing is a little off. Nik Partridge’s energetic direction also constitutes an important factor here, enabling this production to run at a satisfyingly intense pace, to generally prevent any scenes from feeling boggy. Finally, one might deem Lucy Tuck as the standout performer, for her shamelessly cartoonish and yet genuinely funny portrayal of Mrs Driver, Eddie’s flamboyant Umbridge-like aunt.
The Tobacco Factory has plenty of reason to be proud of this energetic and playful production. As Christmas draws nearer, and with pantomime season in full swing, The Borrowers definitely has a place – as a shorter, affordable and enjoyable alternative family theatre experience that is almost sure to inspire a smile, irrespective of age.
The Borrowers is playing the Factory Theatre until 20 January 2019. For more information and tickets, visit the Tobacco Factory Theatres website.