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The Missing Light review at the Old Vic, London – ‘delightful animation’

Scene from The Missing Light at Old Vic, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton Scene from The Missing Light at Old Vic, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton

On days when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are not wandering in confusion among the clouds on their Old Vic set, the stage transforms into a sort of exploded studio.

As part of the theatre’s Families at the Old Vic programme, Mark Arends and Make Mend and Do have devised a delightful silent animation which appears on screen while three puppeteers, a guitarist and a stage manager make it happen in full view of the audience.

The subject – loneliness and friendship in old age – is not an obvious one for children aged seven and up, but anyone can be lonely and everyone needs a friend. Children sat rapt around me.

Young Hilda lives happily by the sea with her husband: he catches fish, she sells them and every day she buys him a toffee apple. Then, one day, his boat’s homecoming light is missing. He does not return.

Years later, Hilda is still looking longingly out to sea, her copper hair now white, her face puffy and sad, when Warple, a retired inventor, comes to town. He persuades Hilda to join him on an adventurous journey involving a ramshackle car-boat-balloon and she begins to look to the future. A visit to the fair and the planting of a toffee apple core complete the story, one of hope and gentle humour.

The miniature sets and props have a charmingly rough and ready look and some of the effects are well within primary school scope: ‘rain’ comes from a perforated plastic bottle, a sparkler makes welding sparks, the ‘waves’ are cardboard.

Though the technology (involving four cameras, numerous puppetry sets and smaller screens) is complicated, this show could still inspire young artists and performers in their own invention.

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A gently humorous story told through puppetry and live animation