First shown as a studio performance in summer 2008, William Tuckett’s Faeries has been revised as a Christmas children’s show for the stage, with some key changes: it’s set in winter, there’s a scene-setting backdrop of Zeppelins over London, and the lead character is a boy rather than a girl. The story, though, remains the same: after seeing his sister taken away at Paddington station as they are evacuated from blitz-torn London, Johnny (Femi Oyewole) runs away and finds himself in Kensington Gardens. He enters a magical realm where he is caught in a battle against the evil fairy Dolour, and must search for the secret hidden inside a golden coffin.
Michael Vale’s designs – muted colours, twisted trees – evoke wartime austerity, sepia-toned nostalgia and looming danger. Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s script sometimes sputters – there’s too much exposition to get through – but settles into gear once the characters are established, steering between humour, pathos, wonder and foreboding as adroitly as Martin Ward’s score (for keyboard and clarinet, played live). Most beguiling, though, is the seamless intermingling of choreography, acting and puppetry. The fairies are puppets (from Blind Summit theatre), each manipulated by several dancers and voiced by a one. In one sequence, the dancers swoop and soar with a broken-winged fairy – a heady sensation of almost-flying.
Oyewole is fine as a dancer if underpowered as an actor. But this is an ensemble piece, and the other performers are impressively versatile in their multiple roles. Faeries casts a spell because its fusion of people and puppets deftly parallels the fluid blend of real and make-believe in a child’s imagination.