Situated in the charming Scottish Storytelling Centre, ‘The Elves and the Shoemaker’ is a delightful wee puppet show which is likely to capture the attention of even the most fidgety child (or adult). From the moment Elvis Schumacker III (or Andy Lawrence, as he is known offstage) welcomed us into his workshop, there was a real warmth about the theatre. Lawrence has a genuine rapport with children and measuring their feet at the beginning of the show was a nice touch to make them feel involved.
The story itself is so well known that it could easily become tired but in Lawrence’s hands it’s always intriguing. Contemporary references help keep the story fresh and a twist to the original story comes in the form of Bunion Soleless, the evil factory boss whose cheap shoes threaten the survival of the Schumacker business. You’ll have to see the show to find out what happens next though . . .
In opposition to the increasingly commercialised nature of children’s entertainment, Theatre of Widdershins offers something unique. The combination of the intricately designed puppets and Lawrence’s storytelling makes this show truly special. Switching voices fluidly between characters and animating his puppets with care, Lawrence is a masterful storyteller. They’re all his own creations and watching him breathe life into the inanimate puppets was pure magic. His engagement with his young audience was excellent, often ad-libbing to react to their vocal response to the show. He also ran about with an astounding amount of energy, making sure that even those at the back felt part of the production. Even if his dancing was admittedly awful, that’s part of the charm and it’s what made the kids giggle. In the middle of the show one child shouted; ‘This is a funny show. It’s a silly show.’ It’s also very punny, with lots to keep even the more mature audience member amused.
Technically everything works like clockwork, running so smoothly that you would be forgiven for mistaking it as real magic. It’s polished work and has a detailed, hand-made quality that is rare to find. Lawrence may be running the show but there must be lots of elves working hard behind the scenes who also deserve credit.
Gentle without being twee, old-fashioned but never boring, this is a show that understands its audience well and is a joy to watch. There was lots of spontaneous clapping throughout the performance and more than a few gasps of wonder as every box, door or curtain of the set opened to reveal another charming surprise. When Lawrence declared that the show was nearly at an end one child let out a heartfelt ‘aww!’ The verdict is clear; Lawrence and his elves are a winner.