As the audience entered the intimate theatre space of the Rosemary Branch Theatre, a hidden gem atop a quaint pub full of stuffed stoats and model airplanes, the air was filled with the kind of music that you might expect to hear from a Lotte Reineger film. My expectations were immediately raised for the performance of Sparkle and Dark’s The Clock Master that was to follow. Lawrence Illsley, the ‘shop minstrel’ played guitar, and Ceridwen Smith (who also plays the Clock Master’s assistant) played the flute throughout the piece, with lovely musical interludes within the stories and to create dramatic sound effects.

The Clock Master (Dewi Evans) himself began the proceedings, introducing us to his assistants, two mute creatures who transform themselves into anything that his stories demand (played by Ceridwen Smith and Sophie Wyburn). We were given warnings about stories and whether to trust a storyteller, but before we become too involved with the Clock Master’s whimsical monologue the action is halted by a spoilt child (played by Louisa Ashton) entering the shop with a “broken, bust and boring” pocket watch. Convincing the girl of the worth of her pocket watch becomes the larger story that frames several delightful original tales we are treated to inbetween, each with an interesting moral and a few up-to-date gags to crack a knowing laugh from the audience. The tension between the Clock Master’s eccentric and seemingly forgetful character and the upfront and brash little girl was well-played, with some hilarious and skilfully delivered heated interchanges entirely in rhyming couplets.

Children and adults alike will be amazed by the puppets and all the other wonders there are to see on stage; rich tapestry hangings that create the backdrop, a treasure chest full of bits of stories waiting to be brought to life, and a hypnotic animated projection of grinding cogs to set the scenes within the Clock Master’s workshop. All the props, set and puppets are made from reclaimed materials, most incredibly in the puppet of the Clockwork Girl, who is a work of art. Completing the handcrafted look, the characters are dressed in steampunk-like attire, with cracked goggles, cogs and eccentric waistcoats aplenty.

An array of different kinds of puppets bring each story to life, and these are handled with skilful adeptness from the mute assistants who are invisible when they are needed to be, but wonderfully vibrant when they are called upon to play a part in the Clock Master’s tales (look out for the reluctant flute-playing monkey). The puppets are also wont to go wandering astray from the stage, allowing the audience to ‘meet’ and admire them at close quarters. One lucky audience member was given a ‘flying dream’ prop to take away and keep.

The show is advertised as being “for ages 5 to 105”, and although when I saw it there was only one child in the audience there were lots of smiling adult faces leaving the theatre. A charming and wonderfully imaginative show with a few wicked twists along the way, and a feast for the eyes (and ears) for those who love storytelling.

The Clock Master is now on tour. For more information on Sparkle and Dark, see their website here.