“Once, the only sounds to be heard were the buzzing of bees in the grass and the song of birds in the sky,” is the evocative opening of Varmints, Helen Ward’s story for children that describes one creature attempts to preserve his little bit of nature. Director Sally Cook and choreographer Wilkie Branson have taken the story from the page to the stage, creating a short, studio-scale dance-drama aimed at children.
A scene from Varmints at Sadler's Wells, London Photo: Paul Blakemore
The show has three sections - the first sees the woodland creatures enjoy their patch of green, the second witnesses the arrival of diggers and cranes which obliterate the grass and flowers, and the third depicts the creature’s attempts to re-create their lost nature. It is a poignant story ably told by Cook and Branson, with the action clear and the characters well drawn. The small cast of four performed the mix of naturalistic mime and hip-hop themed choreography with flair. Holly Waddington’s designs are an essential part of the show, with the soft tweedy trousers and crochet woolens giving the creates a home-spun charm, while the harshly coloured techno-costumes of the builders exactly convey their mechanistic mentality and money-grabbing motives.
The costumes and the character’s sense of lost nature are the strongest aspects of the show. Less impressive are the under-designed set, which comprises a thin video projection and a few strips of stage grass. Some of the danced sections feel over-long and slow-paced - such as the arrival of the digger trucks - but this would be remedied by simply speeding things up.