Music melts, puppets peep and we know we are in for a treat. It only takes a few moments for the enchanting world of This Was the World and I Was King to propel itself into one of the most wonderful evenings that you can have. Full of stories and childish glee, it is virtually impossible to be disappointed.
Elizabeth (Casey Jay Andrews) and Evelyn (Laura Trundle) look back on their past, getting lost in the wistful nostalgia of siblings Evelyn, Alexander (Lewis Clarke) and Lily’s (Laura Hannawin) stories in their uncle’s farmhouse during the First World War. Between the childish arguments and stories, and the endlessly thrilling imagination of these children, we have a lasting connection for the adults around them – those that find it harder to escape from reality than the children do. We see their parents (Lucy Peacock and Steve McCourt) attempt to protect them from the harsh cruelty of the world by romanticising war and allowing them to continue playing their childish games. Meanwhile, their Uncle Edward (Oliver Grant) is trying to force them to get to grips with reality and pressure them into growing up, perhaps because he had to all too soon himself.
Through their stories, we witness the ingenuity and boundless originality of HookHitch Theatre. Puppetry choreographs its way into their work, most notably to show King Thomas the Bear turn into a boy, but still keeping a bear’s heart, of course! Suitcases, sheets and boxes are playfully turned into thrones, ships and carts, launching everyone into a frenzy of childish amazement.
Everything in this show is beautifully enhanced by the music, and it is what makes the whole piece truly exceptional. George Jennings composes whimsical, enchanting songs that soar and glide, blending seemingly effortlessly with the eloquent and artistic script by Casey Jay Andrews and Nathan Foad. While the whole cast create the atmosphere and are a part of the music, I must commend Oliver Grant, Steve McCourt, Casey Jay Andrews and Joey Dexter for their accompaniment that was more than captivating.
With an ensemble piece and a cast as exceedingly talented as this, there is no way I could pick out individual performances. Each member has something wonderfully mesmerising about them and I have no doubt that it was not just the children who were having fun. From musicians to characters, there is seamless fluidity in switching roles and scenes that give clarity to the audience but, most importantly, without destroying the magic.
While Evelyn’s nostalgia is seemingly beautiful, there aren’t only happy endings. This Was the World and I Was King takes you to the heights of childish glee and simultaneously manages to pull you right back down to the crushing depths of humans emotion – not just in the outcome, but also in the characters of Uncle Edward, who has so much care for those around him that he does not want to leave them unprepared, and in Alexander, who idolises his father and soldiers who go to war. He wants to be a hero, a king in some people’s eyes, just like them. It pulls you through these reactions with style and grace though, making you feel as though you’ve been on the most incredible journey… which you have.
It’s wonderful to see a past show from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe be transformed for a London stage. There is no magic lost from the intimate fringe setting, and instead we feel even more fascainated by this encapsulating show.
You could not fail to love such an extraordinarily charming show as this one that HookHitch Theatre has created. With a whole host of work under their belts, it would come as no surprise if these innovative artists were a big part of theatre’s future.
This Was the World And I Was King is playing at the Brockley Jack Theatre until 20 February. For more information and tickets, see the Brockley Jack Theatre website. Photo: Muerig Marshall