The Borrowers review at Watermill Theatre, Newbury – ‘inventively designed’
Based on Mary Norton’s charming children’s stories about a race of tiny people living beneath the floorboards of a country house, The Borrowers is a warm and gentle family show from prolific adaptor Theresa Heskins.
Retaining much of the text of the original 1952 novel, her script has a strongly nostalgic sense of time and place, leavened by a few mildly humorous modern touches.
Nenda Neurer plays youngest Borrower Arrietty, dreaming of a wider world beyond her miniscule home. Though occasionally struggling to be heard, she makes a relatable and effortlessly likeable protagonist, both resourceful and believably wide-eyed about everything she encounters. Meanwhile, a spritely, acrobatic Matthew Romain bounces and clambers about the space as her father Pod, providing most of the show’s sillier gags.
Director Paul Hart makes the most of the Watermill’s intimate space, keeping his cast scurrying around the audience, sliding between levels, and at one point abseiling down from the rafters. Toots Butcher’s playful design delightfully evokes a miniature world with oversized props and some inventive illusions – cotton reel stools, a ladder with matchsticks for rungs. A shower of stress balls pelts the stage, standing in for heavy rain.
Lilting music by Tarek Merchant peppers the production, with instruments played live by the tight ensemble. Frazer Hadfield plays a memorable, bluesy trumpet, shining on the show’s stand-out number Cover’s an Art, where Pod expounds on the stealth skills required to survive as a four inch tall person surrounded by lumbering humans and carnivorous cats.