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The Iron Man review at Unicorn Theatre, London – ‘an uneven adaptation’

The Iron Man at Unicorn Theatre, London. Photo: Helen Murray

Ted Hughes’ classic 1968 children’s novel The Iron Man should be compulsory reading. It’s a heartwarming modern-day myth about improbable allies that celebrates tolerance, resourcefulness, altruism and pacifism, human virtues as precious as any natural resource.

Matthew Robins’ stage adaptation captures some of the tale’s charm, firing the imagination with an impressive range of giant cardboard puppets, but a slight clunky-ness and an all too obvious industry weigh this show down like lead.

Hughes’ story follows the adventures of a house-sized iron giant, who chomps through metal like mango, from his persecution at the hands of a group of frustrated farmers, to his unlikely friendship with a curious young boy, to his self-sacrificing attempts to save the world from a planet-hopping space dragon the size of Australia. Robins has pared Hughes’ novel down to a digestible but uneven 50-minute cocktail of puppetry and animation. A cast of three work hard, driving the tale onward to Nima Taleghani’s narration and Owen Crouch’s pounding, industrial sound design.

The eponymous metal man, brought to life through a set of articulated cardboard figures, the largest of which stands at an awesome, intimidating 12 feet tall, is a delightfully personable, resolutely stoic character that engenders genuine affection. Elsewhere though, in the amateurish, blandly greyscale animation, in the uninspiring, oddly diminutive supporting puppets, and in the inelegant, clumsy, illusion-breaking direction, The Iron Man creaks with rust.

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An uneven puppet adaptation of Ted Hughes' classic children's story