Five Children And It - Progress TheatreBy AF Harrold
December 31, 2008
With a rather radical adaptation of E Nesbit’s classic children’s fantasy the Progress Theatre are able to finish yet another year on a high.
The five children as adults revisit the gravel pit where they met the wish granting Psammead as children.
In order to explain to Lamb, who was only a baby at the time and doesn’t remember, they wish that they could see it all again – and so the play unfolds the children’s story with adult commentary in a manner that works surprisingly well.
With a cast of thousands – often a stage crowded with both children and adults and pop-up scenery – it’s a credit to the company that things never get muddled, that the arc of the story remains paramount and that one wants to know what happens next.
This anticipation is heightened by the liberties with the story that Ali Carroll, who adapted it specially for this New Year show, has taken.
Purists may not remember, for instance, the orphanage, the mother about to be hanged for murder or the children being sent up chimneys, but they wouldn’t be shocked because somehow it never quite seems a step too far from the spirit of Nesbit.
The stage is a lovely design, with the Psammead’s golden sand pile occupying the back area while flats fold out from the walls and floor to indicate other locations, slightly stylised, but quite enough to transport a viewer to just the right place.
For the most part the children act well, with the two boys really shining as epitomes of the posh and the common in conflict – and the supporting adults being delightedly curious to recognise themselves as they were.
There is very little to dislike.
Needless to say after some adventures, some mishaps, and a desperate plunge into some quite dark depths everything eventually comes right – with exactly the right wish – and the evildoers are punished and the good rewarded and an audience can go home well-satisfied with what they’ve seen.