Choosing to adapt a fairly obscure Greek text like The Battle of Frogs and Mice (also known as the Batrachomyomachia) as a storytelling show for children would be a bold choice for anyone, so it's particularly impressive as a choice for an Edinburgh Fringe debut by Helicon Storytelling, but even more impressive is how excellently they manage to pull it off!
This is a show that families cannot afford to miss.
This is Fringe theatre at its simplest and most effective. A small ensemble accompanied by a pair of musicians recounting the story of The Battle of Frogs and Mice (a parody of Homer’s Iliad) through a combination of puppetry, song and narration. In a snug space with limited technical facilities, Helicon Storytelling prove that you don’t need flashing lights to capture a child’s attention.
The story itself focuses on an unfortunate tragic accident that befalls the Prince of Mice at the hands of the King of Frogs, and the resulting conflict that ensues between these two small but mighty species. Audience members are divided into Team Frog and Team Mouse on the way in, and smaller members of each team are entrusted to keep the puppets safe during the show whilst they’re not being used.
This is just one of the many brilliant ways in which the ensemble demonstrated their natural ability to engage with their young audience. When a particularly young child gets upset or cries during your average children’s show, the performers tend to simply power through and the parent might eventually take the child out of the venue. Here, I watched several times as a spare member of the ensemble would quite calmly slip away from the main action of the stage and entertain the toddler one-on-one, before slipping back into the performance.
It is this fluidity which is the greatest strength of The Battle of Frogs and Mice. The actors and musicians are very happy to engage with their audience, reacting to their comments and suggestions, and amending their own performance accordingly. All play multiple characters, made easily identifiable by very distinct repeated physical movements and vocal patterns employed by each actor, but also by the simple choice of affixing a new puppet to their shoulder as they changed character.
The understanding of both the text and the technique behind the text is evident on the part of the production team. The use of music, seamlessly integrated throughout, is a nice Homeric addition to proceedings, never seeming overused or overpowering as can often happen with a live band, and always adding that extra spark of tension at just the right moment.
The Battle of Frogs and Mice is one of those rare shows that really is enjoyable to all ages. From intimate storytelling to a massive ping-pong ball battle between Team Frog and Team Mouse, this is a show that families cannot afford to miss.