Dreamland Theatre makes an impressive debut with this imaginative interpretation of a traditional fairy tale. The tale itself is based on characters from French classical songs - so, there is Sammy’s Mother/La Sorciere (Lucy Anderson), Charlotte/Le Chat (Zoe Catherine Barker), Charlotte’s Mother (Sarah Buckley), Le Cygne (Lewis Normand), Sammy/La Souris (Stefan Trout), and Monsieur Grenouille (Josh Whitelaw). Producer and creator, Buckley, has attempted to introduce classical music, opera, and ballet - forms more typically associated with an elite, older generation - to a young audience. Not only this, but the French words that crop up throughout - and the songs, entirely sung in French - familiarise children with a foreign language, in a way that is entertaining and intriguing, rather than offputting and alienating. When French is used, the narrative drive and the aid of mime means that we never lose a sense of what’s happening - this is all to be applauded.
So, what of the plot? Charlotte and Sammy are playing in the garden when Charlotte’s mother teaches them how to play a game involving throwing coins into a bucket: le jeu de tonneau. Sammy’s mother calls him back home, but not before he’s agreed to play the game with Charlotte again at midnight. Following a bedtime story about the magical land of Sommeil, Charlotte dreams that she is the little girl in her mother’s story and that she meets an evil witch, who turns her into a cat, and Sammy into a mouse. This prompts a lovely chase sequence as the friends turn against each other temporarily. Both animals meet other children who have undergone the same treatment: a frog, who leads them to La Sorciere; and a swan, only able to communicate through balletic dance. The latter sequence is particularly striking as it creates an element of calm and quiet amongst all the movement and music. A cellist (Rachel Wilson) and pianist (Beth Jerem) sit to the left, just off-stage, and play pieces by Erik Satie, Francis Poulenc, Aaron Copland, and Camille Saint-Saens. The big operatic moments are generated by La Sorciere herself - she has a powerful voice, but she’s not consistently menacing enough for me.
Of course, we are rewarded with a happy ending. However, the real treat here is a show that refuses to patronise its young target audience, instead offering up an intelligent, humorous, and culturally-rich package that should appeal to both young and old alike.