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The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark review at the Unicorn Theatre – ‘hi-tech, immersive production’

Stephanie Levi-John and Lawrence Walker in The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark at the Unicorn Theatre. Photo: Manuel Harlan Stephanie Levi-John and Lawrence Walker in The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark at the Unicorn Theatre. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Lee Lyford’s production of The Owl Who Was afraid of the Dark, adapted from Jill Tomlinson’s novel, takes a hi-tech approach. It creates an immersive environment in which to tell the rite-of-passage story of Plop, a baby barn owl.

Natalie Price’s set resembles intertwining tree branches, allowing the two actors to play easily in the round. The audience is seated on small fold-up chairs and cushions on the floor, while all four walls of the auditorium are used for occasional atmospheric projections. The sophisticated lighting and projection is carefully designed so as not to overpower the live performance. A subtle sense of security is created by the design as a whole – the audience sits on a grass carpet strewn with autumn leaves, for example – to implement the lessons of the story to members of the audience who might be afflicted by the same predicament as the protagonist.

The text itself, however, seems not to have been subjected to as rigorous a dramaturgical treatment for the stage. The narrative forms a series of episodic scenes, largely told in the third person. This keeps the piece strangely closed to the audience throughout, except for specific moments designated for interaction. The actors do a good job cartwheeling through the script with a lightness of touch, although a more playful rapport would not have been amiss.

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Children’s theatre with impressively high production values that occasionally risks losing touch with the audience