In a theatre season characterised by flash and razzamatazz, the Sherman Theatre is presenting a stage adaptation of Mary Norton’s The Borrowers.
The Clock family are three fairy-sized people living under floorboards. They don’t ‘steal’ they only “borrow” – a fact brought wonderfully to life through Hayley Grindle’s imaginative over-sized set design. Thimbles become cooking cauldrons, a tomato turns into a Space Hopper and a cotton reel functions as a stool.
Norton wrote the first novel not long after the end of the Second World War and director Amy Leach emphasises timely themes of displaced people, including one distressing scene where the housekeeper gives the order to “smoke them out”.
Keiron Self as the father, Pod, is robustly pragmatic in his counsel against hate and a counterweight against the emotional outbursts of Homily, played by Cait Davis. Following her appearance in Sally Cookson’s Sleeping Beauty at the Bristol Old Vic, Kezrena James proves again what an infectiously enthusiastic performer she is in roles of this type.
Harvey Virdi adds a more traditional element of Christmas theatre as the tipsy, cackling villain. But on the whole this is a deliberately low-key and poignant production, along the lines of Raymond Brigg’s The Snowman, with moments of melancholy underscored by Dom Coyote’s gentle compositions.
In many ways this production breaks the rules of how to entertain children, yet despite its lack of showy theatricals, The Borrowers keeps an audience of youngsters noticeably engaged throughout. It’s a quieter take on Christmas entertainment but, like the Welsh daffodils lining the stage, it’s curiously beautiful.