Jeanne Willis and Gwen Millward’s picture book is about two sisters meeting the ‘King of Tiny Things’, who shows them the mysterious creatures of the night. The story is charming, exciting, and most of all simple. Yet Poppy Burton-Morgan’s adaptation fails to capture this simplicity on stage, as the production is far too busy and lacks focus.
The play has a very effective atmosphere and draws you in right away: the colourful set, clever lighting and imaginative costumes and puppetry captivate the children. The world is very well-established, but due to the Udderbelly’s venue and its location the sounds from outside often break the illusion. And while the performers are full of energy and perform impressive sequences of puppetry, acrobats and circus elements, The King Of Tiny Things is full to the brim: there is simply so much singing, dancing, juggling, narration and shadow-puppetry that it is very easy to get lost, and so one might question what is the focus of it all. Both performers and the audience desperately need some structure as the play seems to have several endings – the end of the night, the transformation of the King, and the return of the sisters as grown-ups all feel like potential endings. Just when you start to believe that it has finished, the play continues to introduce a new theme, resulting in an overstretched and unclear production.
It is a shame that this is such a crammed show, because there are some true highlights in The King Of Tiny Things, such as Maddie McGowan portraying Daddy Long Legs in a brilliant costume while balancing on stilts, or Ludo Helin’s Caterpillar that transforms into a colourful butterfly. However, the most charming moments unfortunately don’t have time to shine in this overcrowded production.
The King of Tiny Things played at the Southbank Centre as part of the Udderbelly Festival. It is now touring until 1 November. For more information and tickets, see the Metta Theatre website. Photo by Metta Theatre.