Philippa Pearse’s 1958 children’s fantasy novel was an instant classic. And in the Birmingham Stage Company’s capable hands the story stands the test of time for the reality TV and Xbox generation too.
The key was not to try too hard to please modern audiences. David Wood’s adaptation stays very true to the book, and director Neal Foster has pared the production right back with a simple - but very effective - design, beautiful live music and by getting the actors to mime rather than using props. The engaging cast, led by David Tute and Caitlin Thorburn, make the time fly past as they tiptoe, climb and ice-skate around Jacqueline Trousdale’s semitransparent spiral-shaped set.
We clearly don’t give primary school children enough credit for being able to concentrate. Even this simple-as-can-be production kept them enthralled throughout - there were excited cheers all over the audience as the house lights were dimmed at the beginning of the second half.
Some sections of the story are particularly dated - most notably the anti-feminist message it sometimes promotes (“You don’t hide badly, for a girl”). But you can’t help feeling Pearce - and everyone involved in this production - would love today’s young girls to prove her very wrong.