Adapted for stage by author Annabel Wigoder, Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem The Hunting of the Snark takes the form of a family musical adventure at the Vaudeville Theatre in the West End. Written from 1874-1876, the poem borrows several characters from his earlier composition, ‘Jabberwocky’ that featured in his children’s book ‘Through the Looking Glass’ written in 1871. Produced by Snark Productions Limited, London’s West End is the first stop for the cast and crew before they begin a five-month tour of the UK in September.
Guided by a homemade Snark detector, a ragtag gang of six step off the map of Wonderland and arrive in a strange and unfamiliar land. The Banker, the Boy, the Butcher, the Baker, the Bellman and the knitting Beaver are on a quest to catch the mythical Snark, and so the hunt begins. Accompanied by an award-winning soundtrack, the search is laced with fast-paced comedy and a joyful use of puppetry. Audiences of all ages are invited to partake in this voyage, but beware of the Boojum! They are a fickle and dastardly sort.
Excitable children swing back and forth, too small for their red velvet seats. There is a sense of anticipation hanging in the air, sparked by the innocent majesty of the set. Designed by Justin Nardella, sliver screens surround a tree, its trunk caged, ripe with white blossom. Boxes made from pallet wood decorate the floor, and the stage is lit by single bulbs hanging from above. A London skyline casts its shadow across the stage, and the ensemble appeared. They began with the first of eight fantastic musical numbers, demonstrating a fierce camaraderie. Already a sublime and effortless spectatorship had been created, which was made better still by Wigoder’s contemporary quips and comic script.
Armed with a copy of The Financial Times and sporting an impressive moustache, Simon Turner is a pitch-perfect Banker. Knee-deep in negative principles, his selfish quest to catch a recently spotted Snark shipwrecks the band of five on the shores of Snark Island, a land overgrown with multi-coloured, sequined plants. Jordan Leigh-Harris sings well as the Boy, the son of the Banker, but the decision to defy sex-role stereotypes by casting a female actor for the role remained confusing throughout, especially for the younger members of the audience.
As the Bellman, Ben Galpin is an excellent comedian, and works well will the Baker (played by Will Bryant), who is suffering from a serious case of amnesia. The two rewarded the audience with meta-theatrical humour that delighted both adult and infant, but it was Polly Smith as the antagonistic Butcher that shone amid the imaginative wildfire. Her performance was incandescent, and her multi-rolling abilities worked well to sustain the pace of the performance.
Puppetry is also used as an excellent comic device. Short-sighted, and with the ability to knit, an endearing Beaver enhances the hilarity of its nonsense partner, the Jub-Jub Bird. Like an over-sized piñata, it ruffles the feathers of the narrative, and adds to the clever references of Carroll’s previous works. Elements of pantomime are expertly balanced by the colourful storytelling, and the crew journey on, propelled by screams of encouragement from the theatregoers.
The Hunting of the Snark concludes with a more satisfying moral ending than that offered by Carroll, and the theatre exploded with applause and roars of delight:
“What do we want? A Snark!”
“When do we want it?”
The Hunting of the Snark is playing at the Vaudeville Theatre until September 2.