This new adaptation of one of Hans Christian Andersen’s earliest fairytales The Tinderbox has so much potential to be a magical Christmas show that is perfect for small children, but unfortunately it falls just short of the mark. Whilst it has some moments of ingenuity and the cast build a great rapport with the audience, it isn’t sustained enough to be the magical production it promises to be.
Staying fairly close to the storyline of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale, the play opens with the soldier Brian the Brave returning penniless from war and meeting a witch who asks him to go inside a hollow tree and bring her back a tinderbox. Greed gets the better of Brian the Brave and so he claims the tinderbox for himself, which he later discovers has the power to summon three magical dogs that can grant him whatever he wishes. Whilst at first his newfound riches allow him to live to excess in the big city, he quickly runs out of money and is unsuccessful in his pursuit of the beautiful princess. He must first learn the lesson of humility before the story can end happily ever after.
Whilst the simplicity of props, set and costume may understandably have been the result of a small budget, it was, at times, this simplicity that made the show feel less magical overall. Aside from Brian the Brave who wears a classic nutcracker-style costume, the cast is in a uniform of jumpers and bobble hats and then they pick up new props and accessories when playing different characters. These unimaginative costumes combined with rudimentary cardboard heads for the magical dogs make the whole thing less believable, especially as there was no attempt made by the actors even to move like animals in order to create a suspension of disbelief amongst the audience. Equally the set, comprised of giant books to look like a section of a bookshelf, was such a simple backdrop that again it was difficult to imagine that the characters were in a bustling city, especially as the cast was so small.
This said, the performances given by the actors were certainly what upheld the show. The cast was brilliant at interacting with the children in the audience, particularly Samuel J. Weir who plays Brian the Brave and Mandy Holliday who plays a variety of characters. The standout performer in the show is Ceris Hine who plays the Gold Dog for the majority of the show but demonstrates her versatility as an actor in the numerous other roles she adopts. The use of puppetry was really imaginative, with the actors manipulating the puppets of a ballerina and an opera singer when Brian the Brave is living a life of decadence in the city. For me the piece gathered momentum in the latter half of the show, especially with the magical transformation of the witch into the princess.
Ultimately, the show has some brilliant moments and some great performers, but the lack of attention to detail is what lets a show that holds so much promise down.
The Tinderbox is playing the Charing Cross Theatre until 3 January 2016. For more information and tickets, see the Charing Cross Theatre website.