If you’re looking for magical theatre this Christmas, but aren’t keen on booking a pantomime, then Blu & The Magic Web is a musical adventure that is sure to please the whole family.
a must-see for families this Christmas
Blasting back onto the Brighton scene this Christmas, Truestory Theatre is back in a new venue, ready to delight audiences once again. Although they first caught our attention with adaptations of two of the most enduring horror stories – Dracula and Frankenstein – clearly last year’s A Christmas Carol has given them a taste for more family friendly fare.
After we meet the only child left in the village - non-binary protagonist Blu (played by Lily McGibbon in their professional debut) - and their adopted Granny (Gina Cameron), we soon discover that all the other children have been taken by a mysterious evil force in the forest.
Blu sets out on a quest to save them, looking like a cross between a Pokémon trainer and Link from The Legend of Zelda with cropped bright blue hair, endless enthusiasm, and a fully stocked backpack (toy lightsaber included, of course).
Before long we join a familiar cast of characters plucked from popular fairytales. As is the fashion, these are modern interpretations: Hansel and Gretel are warring siblings; Red Riding Hood needs spectacles; Sleeping Beauty (or in this case, Rose) is a selfie-obsessed influencer, enchanted by her own image; and (Ra)Punzel is a hardcore gamer.
There isn’t a weak link in the cast. Everyone from Ben Jones’ humorous servile Welsh wolf, to Chanel McKenzie’s forensically minded Gretel, and Gina Cameron’s northern Granny, play their part with aplomb. Lily McGibbon is excellent as Blu – you quickly accept that they are playing a young child, as they fully embody the necessary youthful wide eyed optimism. They also have a superb singing voice, which is clear and strong enough to take the lead in a couple of the musical numbers.
Although the heroes in stories tend to hog the spotlight, it’s the villains who get all the best lines, and Blu & The Magic Web’s nefarious spider Spindra is certainly the star. Writer and director Gary Sefton taps into his endless acting ability to play Spindra with huge amounts of energy and levity, challenging The Lord of the Rings’ Shelob for biggest, scariest spider. Combined with clever projection designs (by Thomas Buckley), Spindra is delightfully frightening, as he towers over the cast on stilts, and snarls across the stage. It’s hard to explain how impressive his athleticism is to watch as he bounds around. Younger children may experience a few shudders as he emerges into view, but no doubt they’ll leave completely captivated.
Although this an original production, the story isn’t particularly innovative; drawing on fairytale tropes for inspiration means there won’t be any prizes for guessing the plot. However, Christmas is a time for tradition and repetition, and the simple narrative makes it easy for even the youngest children to follow.
In fact, once Blu leaves the village, the story has a Wizard of Oz style transformation as we leave the slightly humdrum village behind in favour of the much more magical forest. This is where the action really starts to kick in and the musical starts to hit its stride.
The songs by composer and musical director Harrison White are pop hits, reminiscent of Six, with snappy lyrics and catchy choruses. They might not be quite as unforgettable as those in a West End smash-hit sensation, but it’s easy to imagine that the songs would get a fair few repeat plays post-show if they were uploaded to Spotify. Notable numbers were Spindra’s diatribe against children, and Rose’s Nicki Minaj-esque ode to narcissism.
Truestory Theatre’s previous home at The Spire had natural atmosphere, and at first some of that innate immersion is lost in the more traditional proscenium stage of the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts. However, the hardworking set design by Ryan Dawson Laight seems to grow with the show as we travel through the forest, and it isn’t long before you’re swept up in the story. In an ideal world, perhaps it would have been nice to see the cast spill out into the audience, but in these Covid-sensitive times, it is right that distance is required.
What more could you ask for? A truly talented cast, complete with a villain who will amaze and astonish, incredible effects, and a wholesome message focusing on belonging makes this the complete package. Simply put, Blu & The Magic Web is a must-see for families this Christmas and set to delight audiences of all ages.