This year’s RSC Christmas show is Tamsin Oglesby’s adaptation of Russell Hoban’s children’s story, The Mouse and His Child. We went to the first preview. It is very entertaining and the audience – both adults and children – loved it. The dramatic personae are toys and animals with only two humans, played by puppets. The cast embraced their challenge of animal and clockwork toyÂ characteristics with gusto and were greatly helped by spectacular costumes designed by Angela Davies.
It is a real ensemble production with most actors playing several parts and with some of them playing instruments, too, to complement the band playing on stage leftÂ which isÂ from time to time incorporated into the action. There are vast numbers of props, extra costumes, objects flown onto stage, a ladder to climb , lots of flying sequences and constantly changing pictures aided by a large revolve. There are beautiful lighting effects, too, created by Paul Anderson.
Lots of cuteness appeals both to the kids and the adults: Elephant’s propulsion is by means of roller skates;Â the enormous and charming mouse ears; parrot’s multi-coloured costume; the lovely tableau at the beginning of a clockwork family; a unicycle….Â There is a lot of rough and tumble and a splendid ‘caterpiller’ sequence.
There is also a plot of sorts. Two tin mice are taken to a toyshop, are bought as Christmas presents, get broken and thrown out, go on a adventure, meet Mannie, an evil engineering rat, get dropped into a lake, are rescued and find their way back home, to the toyshop. I have to admit to finding the plot challenging, although the brighter people I went with had no problem in identifying all the characters and working out what was going on. It was clearly a problem I had with the surrealist genre.
I had no problem with the Beckettian ideas, though. This is a children’s story about identity and purpose. The tin mice’sÂ quest to be self-winding is a straightforward twentieth centuryÂ metaphor and Mannie’s manipulation of them gives it a political as well as personal and social dimension. I’m almost ashamed to say that this thematic exploration gained my attention much more than the visual and aural razzle-dazzle, but this says more about me than it does about the production. However, director Paul Hunter has not been shy in making sure that some of Hoban’s more intellectual concerns are included and developed.
The first preview was certainly audience-ready. The production will become tigher and slicker as the run develops. I recommend it.