Following its 2013 world premiere, which earned it an Olivier nomination for Best New Opera Production, UK tour and New York presentation, The Firework Maker’s Daughter has returned to the Linbury Studio Theatre. The musical adaptation of Phillip Pullman’s novel of the same name brings to life the story of Lila, a plucky young girl desperate to learn how to make fireworks from her dad, Lalchand, The King’s firework maker. She enlists the help of her best friends, Hamlet, the king’s beautiful white elephant, and Chulak, the elephant scrubber, and embarks on a perilous journey to learn the secrets of making fireworks. It is a story of ambition, determination, friendship and courage, which is beautifully brought to life on stage in John Fulljames’ stunning production.
What makes the production really special is Dick Bird’s designs, which uses a combination of projection and shadow puppetry to create an effect inspired by Indonesian tradition, and captures the imagination of both children and adults alike. The simplicity of the puppetry, by Indefinite Articles and performed by Sally Todd and Steve Tiplady, captures a childlike innocence and wonderment which transports the audiences to the jungles, mountains and rivers of far off lands. I would go as far as to call the puppeteering the show’s crowning glory, were it not for the strength of the rest of the production. Above all else, The Firework Maker’s Daughter looks stunning. But to limit it to just its visuals would be an injustice, given the strength of the rest of the show.
The unique sounds of David Bruce’s score creates an interesting combination of traditional opera and eastern folk music. The score is beautifully brought to life by the wonderful cast, led by Lauren Fagan’s soaring vocals. Tai Oney as Hamlet also stands out, with tender, lamenting tenor melodies. There were moments where I could see the cast’s diction being an issue for an eight year old, and preventing them from getting the full experience of the music, but the children in the audience seemed enthralled despite this.
The story itself is an exciting adventure tale, with a stunning climax in the Firefiend’s lair, accompanied by the haunting vocals of the ghosts of travellers like Lila, who weren’t so lucky. It keeps the audience on its toes, although at times it feels a little slow. Overall however, I was completely charmed by this imaginative, inventive production that I can see being a hit for the whole family.
The Firework Maker’s Daughter is playing Linbury Studio Theatre until January 2 2016. For more information and tickets, see the Royal Opera House website. Photo by Alastair Muir and Royal Opera House.