Inspired by A Winter’s Tale, commissioned for The World Shakespeare Festival and intended as an introduction to Shakespeare for two to four-year-olds, In a Pickle focuses initially on matters ovine. The cast are sheep and a shepherdess who help all the young audience members to don suitable hats, ears and to practise baa-ing before entering the Swan Room, which is set out as a miniature traverse theatre festooned with magical fruits and leaves and suffused with sounds and scents.
A scene from In a Pickle at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon Photo: Patrick Baldwin
Everyone plays sheep games involving herbs, bubbly sheep dip and, crucially, shearing, which produces raw wool for the children to feel. It’s a multi-sensory show with things to see, hear, taste, touch and smell, along with plenty of interaction, both imaginative and physical.
Then suddenly the ‘sheep’ hear and find a baby with her emblems of royalty and we’re in Shakespeare’s play taking Perdita home, via real water to her parents who, almost imperceptibly slip into Shakespeare’s language.
In a Pickle is an ambitious concept but it comes off delightfully with a cast of strong actors who are skilled at thinking on their feet and adept at reacting appropriately to unexpected audience contributions. Griff Fender, in particular, is lovely to watch as gentle, gravelly Black Sheep and Laura Street’s elegant dance and stage presence adds even more charm to a piece that is already steeped in it.
It’s a bit of a mystery, though. First, why are we at one point treated to incense from a church-style swung censor? It doesn’t seem to have any bearing on anything. Second, why on earth did Tim Webb call his piece In a Pickle when something relating to A Winter’s Tale would have been much better?