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Man on the Moon review at Beswick Library – ‘plenty of comical naughtiness’

Claire Tustin, Matthew Gundel, Samantha Morris and Calum Howard in Man on the Moon. Photo: Topher McGrillis Claire Tustin, Matthew Gundel, Samantha Morris and Calum Howard in Man on the Moon. Photo: Topher McGrillis

Popular illustrator and children’s author Simon Bartram has been described as “wonderfully bonkers”, which also sums up Zoe Cooper’s charming small-scale adaptation of his quirky tale about a day in the life of loveable lunar tour guide Bob, who likes to rocket up to the moon after breakfast to keep the place scrubbed up and shining for visitors.

This play with music is ingeniously devised for under-sevens and their families and designed to fit into community centres, libraries, village halls and corner spaces where children’s theatre companies rarely pitch their tents. Ruth Johnson’s production conveys the essential barminess of Bob’s world. But it doesn’t come across as educational, more a celebration of storytelling, role-play and dressing up, as well as presenting young minds with a gentle introduction to the shared let’s pretend mystery of live play-acting: perhaps even offering an antidote to the experience of PlayStation isolation at home.

Visually, the fold-up set, props, costumes and hand puppets mirror the book’s bright colour palette. The actors playing cheeky litter-bugging aliens disguised as humans are impressive, involving the audience and speaking and singing carefully and clearly. By contrast, Matthew Gundell’s smiley faced Bob is quietly charming, but creates a noisy stir with an eccentric moonwalk dance.

Perhaps there’s a serious overarching message here about bringing theatrical make-believe to communities where cultural provision is limited. But there’s plenty of low comical naughtiness to be had too: when the glowing aliens suddenly crave human snot, everyone gets the giggles. And that’s just good fun, whether you are seven or seventy.

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A child-friendly touring production that succeeds in reaching out to very young audiences