The Adventure Theatre at the Polka is the perfect location for Skitterbang Island. The multi-level seating (including floor space) allows the audience to be easily drawn into this intimate piece of story-telling. Cutlery, glass and odd bits of metal hang suspended from the ceiling making Skitterbang’s cave feel like the junk filled back room of a collector; he is a strange creature, but not an altogether unknowable one.
This puppet opera follows the story of a young girl called Marie and her opera-singing Uncle Edvard.The pair are inexplicably swept away at sea. Separated from her uncle, Marie is aided by a curious monster called Skitterbang. The hand-operated puppets used for the three main characters are wonderfully expressive, and Skitterbang’s forehead particularly so. The staging itself is also easily moveable and used effectively to transform the stage from cave to underwater world. It is a shame that the dexterity of the set and these puppets is not revealed sooner; Skitterbang undersells itself by displaying the complexity of its puppets too slowly. Although the intention is perhaps towards subtlety, a little less understatement might capture the attention of the (young) audience more immediately.
The fusion of puppetry and opera for children is something new and is a potentially fruitful medium to be explored. On this occasion, however, I wasn’t entirely convinced by the suitability of the music to tell this story. The music itself is well written and often enchantingly otherworldly, but the form did not always seem to have a natural rapport with the story. Although Uncle Edvard may be a singer, there were moments when I wondered how easy it would be for the children in the audience to decipher Skitterbang’s narrative through the operatic diction. Given the less than resonant acoustic of the Adventure Theatre, the incorporation of recorded music had a greater effect than what was produced live. Though it is important to introduce children to music and its conventions, it might have been more successfully done on this occasion through a greater use of recorded sound.
This review will be published in the autumn edition of Animations Online.
Thoughts on the Polka Theatre
Easy to reach from Wimbledon Station, the Polka Theatre has a completely different feel to the Unicorn (a slick children’s theatre in Southwark). Unlike the Unicorn, this feels like the natural environment for children: there are toys and display cases as well as child-friendly seating in the large foyer area. Aimed perhaps at younger children than the Unicorn, adult behaviour is hoped for but not totally expected.