This is an imaginative piece from the bright young theatre company Ikou!. It is the story of the fate of a mythical bird, the last of its species, and of its struggle to survive in the face of an oncoming storm. The cast tell their story through the use of puppetry and live music, while the narrative is decided by tarot-esque cards selected by members of the audience. The tale, although different in every performance, incorporates mysterious characters and landscapes as the bird protagonist chases an ethereal spirit girl who helped him hatch.
At the heart of the show is the puppetry, which is used for both the Firebird and the girl. The former appeared quite simplistic whilst initially static. However, once it began to move, wielded gracefully by Jess Neale with assistance from Danny Neale, it was hard not to be won over by the charm of the puppet creature. The subtle head movements brilliantly evoked a genuine birdlike physicality and it was a pleasure to witness the pure focus of the puppeteers that was somehow reflected in the animal they manipulated. The music, composed and performed by Beth Kilburn, fitted perfectly throughout, but was especially effective for scenes with the bird in flight. Unfortunately, the spirit girl puppet did not quite have the same charm or appeal as the first one.
The story was told in places through song. Although that was beautifully fitting and stirring at its best, not all the performers were of the same high standard. My major gripe was with the audience interaction element of the performance. There seemed no real reason for its inclusion as it did not add anything to the performance. Moreover, it was distracting to acknowledge the room and the spectators just as we were being transported to this fantastic other world. Another slight issue, which it is harder to fault the production for, was the level seating - people near the back had to either move around, craning to get a look at the action, or not see at all. The performance would have benefited from being staged in a raked seating auditorium.
However, it is unnecessary to dwell too long on these aspects when the show was a delightful piece of storytelling with real charm from a youthful company with great potential.