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Nellie Limelight and the Oysters of Time review at Theatre Royal Brighton – ‘a wacky detective trail’

Florence Leon in Nellie Limelight and the Oysters of Time at Theatre Royal Brighton
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A grandfather clock with its pendulum strung with pearls. A birdcage with its bars snapped open. The distinctive sound of a baby pterodactyl scratching its way up the back of an old dresser. There are some vivid moments, visual and aural, dotted throughout Theatre Royal Brighton’s latest Christmas promenade for young audiences.

As in previous recent years, the theatre has produced a show that bypasses the stage, squeezing itself instead through the narrow passages and winding stairs of its non-public spaces. This is a fail-proof concept for four-to-seven year olds who, at Christmas especially, really don’t want to sit quietly on their bottoms.

Like A Winter’s Trail, Herringbone Arts’ 2015 show for the theatre, Nellie Limelight and the Oysters of Time recruits the audience to solve a mystery. Florence Leon’s quirky theatre sleuth, Nellie Limelight, has been called in to investigate a case involving a villainous pantomime dame (Karl Williams), stolen jewels, and a displaced oyster (designed by puppet maker for Harry Hill, Andy Heath). At points, torches and opera glasses are handed out as we help her search for evidence.

The design isn’t as detailed as in Herringbone’s piece, and more love might have gone in to the clues. The script embraces the theatrical theme early on – Limelight arrives with a (literal) case-load of pantomime props – but loses focus as things get wackier. The young audience, though, are engaged throughout. The performances could perhaps afford to be slightly less frantic, making more of the inbuilt atmosphere, and those vivid individual images.

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A wacky detective trail staged around Theatre Royal Brighton’s secret spaces