Some stupid adults, having forgotten what it’s actually like to be children, are often surprised, disturbed and horrified by the serious issues lurking in the heart of the most successful children’s stories.
“Nothing stays the same for long in the forest,” we're reminded more than once; it’s an ideal lesson for children that, sadly, too many alleged grown-ups seem to deliberately forget.
Writer Jack Dickson has created a simple story focused on a good-natured Ash tree – the titular Fraxi – whose life we follow from a small seed in the soil: "Without roots, it's hard to grow," we're told by our unseen narrator, nine-year-old Ashley. Nevertheless, through some lithe, light choreography, we see Fraxi rise and grow, until – crowned Queen – she eventually towers over, and protects, the rest of the forest. In particular, this includes an always-hungry caterpillar (the modestly named, eager-to-be-on-stage Mr HB Caterpillar, Esquire) and a young man – Woody – whose parents first met and fell in love beneath Fraxi’s branches, and whose love of trees ensures he becomes a forester.
The story is performed partly through dialogue, and partly choreography; the latter, created in consultation with Monica D Ioanni, is often used to symbolically reflects the passage of time and the seasons. Agathe Girard here plays Fraxi with a genuine grace and humour, while Melanie Jordan switches smoothly between “HB” and other roles as required; the lone male in the company, Robin Hellier, provides a lithe strength to proceedings – primarily as Woody but also the seasons and the darker contribution to the plot; finally Amelia Szypczynska is the voice of Ashley, telling the story of her father, Woody. That this sometimes includes a plethora of facts, figures and explanations of the process of photosynthesis might seem odd or gratuitously “educational”, but then what child doesn’t want to share any facts that they have learned? It adds some real character to the otherwise unseen Ashley.
Annie Hiner has created a range of lightweight, suitably colourful costumes for the cast, which simply and effectively reflecting both the passing seasons and their own changing nature. This is particularly notable after a dance sequence in which Fraxi struggles with – and is mortally wounded by – the dark, harsh personification of a disease affecting ash trees across Europe. Genuinely affecting, the story’s conclusion is softened by Dickson’s repeated references to the cycles of life: HB turns into a butterfly, Woody becomes a forester. “Nothing stays the same for long in the forest,” we're reminded more than once; it’s an ideal lesson for children that, sadly, too many alleged grown-ups seem to deliberately forget.