Cautionary Tales

Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tales were written in the late-19th century and have been in print ever since. People never get tired of reading about Matilda who told lies and was burned to death, or of Jim who ran away from Nurse and was eaten by a lion. Newbury Youth Theatre’s latest interpretation brings new life to the tales and is a perfect treat for all the family. The ashen-faced, wild-haired children and the three judges of the Children’s Correction Institute retell the stories with energy and vitality.The set and costumes are reminiscent of Edward Gorey’s dark and scratchy illustrations – everything is a little messy, a little off kilter. Mary Bunch who likes to munch, Jim Brown who runs away to town, and Louisa Green who’s really mean and the rest of the children are all brilliant – this is youth theatre at its best – and could teach some professional companies a thing or two about ensemble acting.At the beginning some of the words are lost in general shoe-shuffling, but as the play progresses, this becomes less of a problem, and the original rhyming text is given a powerful new energy, with perfect comic timing. The wonderfully puerile humour has even the adults sniggering, and the cast clearly relish their roles, throwing themselves across the stage, creating new and interesting stage pictures. Small hiccups are dealt with professionally and the actors don’t avoid eye contact with the audience, infecting us with their enthusiasm. My only criticism is that it runs a little too long; they can’t resist extending it a little further than necessary and though this is redeemed by the final joke, it still feels as though it should have ended five minutes earlier. This is minor compared to the brilliance of the rest of the play. With a lion, tea, crayons up noses, a saxophone solo and an African tribal chief this show lacks nothing. Bring friends, cousins, widow aunts: anyone who was ever a child.

Reviews by Louisa-Claire Dunnigan

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The Blurb

Henry King chewed bits of string, Matilda told lies and Jim was eaten by a lion. NYT return with an exuberant adaptation of Belloc's whimsical Victorian tales. ThreeWeeks Editors' Choice (2009), 'Excellent' (Scotsman, 2008), ***** (Herald, 2007).

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