Nina Bawden’s novel about 12-year-old Carrie and her younger brother, evacuees in war-time Wales, was one of the outstanding children’s books of the 20th century. It has all the strength and charm of a rite of passage piece with historical and regional particularities, moral and comic elements and a helping of mystical horror.
The stage version of a children’s novel can seem like a chronicle of one damn thing after another and Emma Reeves’s adaptation has captured the events rather than the spirit of the original.
Andrew Loudon’s production is as old-fashioned and comforting as a woven Welsh blanket, with two house sets wheeled on to provide the main locations - the sparse home of ranting, tight-fisted Mr Evans and the relative luxury of his widowed sister’s mansion, presided over by wise and lovable housekeeper Hepzibah Green. Sion Tudor Owen bristles gratifyingly as the first and Amanda Symonds is cuddly as the second, while Prunella Scales plays rich Mrs Gotobed with a more than passable Welsh accent. The scary part of the story, especially Carrie’s terror at the power of the skull - said to be of an African slave who cursed the Gotobed house - is muted.
Sarah Edwardson is delicate and touching as Carrie. James Joyce and John Heffernan as her younger brother and love interest respectively have a tougher task persuading the audience they are boys.
Welsh hymns sung in four-part harmony provide delightfully accurate punctuation to the action. But overall this show, for over-sevens, is less innovative than work done at the Unicorn and elsewhere.