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The Borrowers review at Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol – ‘delightful, perfectly judged adaptation’

Simon Armstrong in The Borrowers at Bristol's Tobacco Factory. Photo: Mark Dawson Simon Armstrong in The Borrowers at Bristol's Tobacco Factory. Photo: Mark Dawson

With its wooden floors and low ceilings, Bristol’s Tobacco Factory feels like a natural home for Mary Norton’s story of tiny humans who live under the floorboards.

The space curiously feels both spacious and snug, which is fitting: as Simon Armstrong gentle, scruffy narrator, Eddie, greets the audience and introduces the play as a childhood memory, Bea Roberts’ adaptation places its emphasis on the different perspectives of the young and the old – it’s about remembering how different the world looks and feels when you’re small.

The play gives director Nik Partridge plenty of opportunity to have fun with a steady stream of over-sized props (my favourite is a q-tip wielded in spear-like fashion). Presenting scenes in alternating zoomed-in and normal scale versions – cutting between the tempest and the teacup – produces some great visual gags.

It all plays out in Jess Bernberg’s magnificent lighting design, rich in colour but just the right side of garish, and on Rosanna Vize’s set of drab carpet giving way to shiny mustard yellow and glittery green.

A live band slip in and out of character as they weave themselves into the story, typical of a production that makes no attempt to conceal its own means of magic-making. With an actual, squintingly small magic trick at the show’s close, it’s impossible to resist the thought that the theatre might have its own tiny people hiding under the rake or up in the lighting rig, listening quietly to the show.

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Delightful, perfectly judged adaptation of Mary Norton’s much-loved story