It’s pretty clear what kind of show we’re about to see when – as it becomes obvious that there isn’t actually a sufficient number of seats for all of the audience that’s turned up – an additional seat suddenly appears from behind the black curtain, with an expressive, otherwise disembodied hand pointing at it and giving a thumbs up.
It’s a genuine disappointment when the show comes to an end.
Barely has the audience then had time to settle down before Anna Larkin bursts out onto the “stage grass”. Flustered, she introduces herself as Ophelia – though, to be honest, she’s looking for another name. As the youngest daughter and least brave in her family, she’s now her ill father’s last hope, sent on a quest to find a magical golden feather from a magical golden bird which will apparently cure him. The problem is that she’s doesn’t think she’s brave enough to do the job and so needs some help. That’s when she conveniently meets the sock-washing Jack Stark who “modestly” claims to be the Man Who Knows Everything and can therefore help her find her prize.
Both performers ensure that this is a children’s show bursting with wit, energy and a gentle self-mockery of the production’s somewhat limited special effects budget, and the occasionally necessary overacting. Larkin and Stark are a perfectly matched team, ensuring that there’s no chance of boredom setting in. Almost every line of dialogue inspires a laugh of some kind; those that don’t are usually covered with some kind of physical comedy.
Much of the story is a succession of retellings of several classic folk stories, from Aesop to the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen; each retelling is filled with “business” utilising their limited range of props and costumes to the best of their ability. Arguably the show’s biggest production number – after Ophelia’s initial quest is over – is a dramatisation of The Emperor's New Clothes, although this isn’t to overlook the success of the regular side-steps into some of the fascinating facts known by The Man Who Knows Everything – with the disgusting subjects of bogies and rhino poo invariably getting the children’s vote.
This show is so smoothly performed at what appears like break-neck speed that it’s surely choreographed to within an inch of its life – no mean feat given the small size of the room. But there’s a freshness, an honest exuberance which is undeniable; Larkin and Stark are brilliant at turning what is essentially a nondescript function room into a magical playground filled with regal queens, foolish emperors and castle guards played by boggle-eyed sock puppets. It’s a genuine disappointment when the show comes to an end.