Rose & Pen Productions’ The River Spirit weaves old folklore into modern-day environmental issues, in a tale told partially through folk music. It sounds good on paper, and there’s a lot to commend about this production from a relatively new company, formed in 2013.

Stella Limm’s minimalistic set – three faintly tie-dyed boards – is just right for this production which focuses its energies on music and storytelling. The lighting, too, is charming as it illuminates the faces of those opening Brooke’s treasure chests in the darkest depths of the river.

All performers have clearly poured their hearts and energies into this production, and Vesna Hauschild as Meander is particularly convincing. The exploration and characterisation of the river as three spirits; wise and elderly Delta (Alison Williams-Bailey), angry yet sultry Meander (Vesna Hauschild), and young, playful Brooke (Charlie Limm) is imaginative. Here, river spirits wear varying shades of blues and greens; each personifying the river as women from a different part of the world, from Delta’s sari to Meander’s pleated maxi skirt. The river is one and humans are equally responsible for its maintenance.

The blend of folk music with storytelling was more successful in some moments than others. Whilst Delta’s fable, accompanied by Tam’s (Darren Latham) gentle guitar chords was captivating, the use of tired phrases like ‘this land is mine!’ and ‘I don’t know who I am!’ before bursting into song, seemed more inspired by Disney-esque cliché than folklore. Furthermore, the transitions between dialogue and retrieving instruments were often awkward. I found this frustrating, especially because the unethical littering of rivers is exactly the kind of topic that could come really hit home in a small community venue like The Colour House Theatre, which is perched on the River Wandle at Abbey Mills.

Despite the successful effort to involve the audience in the conversation, particularly in the town hall scenes, I found Latham’s tone patronising when he addressed us as the town’s people. Similarly, whilst the river spirits were full of a collective energy, there were moments when I felt like I was watching three little girls with a dressing up box, keen to show off something they’d just made up. In particular, I found Limm’s Brooke irritatingly juvenile and it made me question whether the production would have been better staged as children’s theatre.

On saying that, the narrative flowed at an appropriate pace, and we were there with Tam for every step of his inner progression as a character. The audience participation in the final scene, as we formed the beating of the River’s heart, was powerful. With a little more development of characters and narrative, The River Spirit has potential to become a piece that would excite an adult audience whilst plunging us into a thought-provoking discussion about the environment.

The River Spirit is playing Colour House Theatre until Saturday 12th September. For more information and tickets, see the Colour House Theatre website.