Shackleton’s Carpenter, Jermyn Street Theatre

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by Laura Kressly

In 1914 Sir Earnest Shackleton set off to cross Antarctica via the South Pole, but the mission was cut short when one of the two ships froze in an ice floe that eventually crushed it. Miraculously, the men were able to seek help due to the ship’s carpenter repurposing the life boats to make them suitable for long journeys in turbulent water. That carpenter’s name was Harry McNish, and in his dying days on a New Zealand dock, he relives his memories of that voyage.

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Police Cops in Space, VAULT Festival

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by guest critic Tom Brocklehurst

The Pretend Men return with a ridiculous sequel to their action-packed police parody. Don’t worry if you missed the first one – you should still get a ticket to this! Done with parodying cop shows, we now get references to The Terminator, Blade Runner and Star Wars – to name but a few of the references.

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Mat Ewins Presents: Adventureman 7 – Return of Adventure Man, VAULT Festival

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by guest critic Zahid Fayyaz

From a successful run at Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Mat Ewins bring his well-received show to London’s VAULT festival. This is a series of daft but funny jokes, using faked videos and audience participation supported by a spine of an Indiana Jones-style adventure. The quest is to obtain a magical amulet to prevent the closure of his museum.

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The Magic Flute, Soho Theatre

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Late one night, a couple fights in bed. After falling asleep angry, Tamino fitfully dreams of a nightclub, a beautiful girl and a quest to save her. He is accompanied by a cheerful sidekick and is given a magic flute by the Queen of the Night, a glamorous celebrity who strokes his ego and stokes his curiosity.

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Skin of the Teeth, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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Nick is fearless. Literally, he can’t feel fear. The young man’s father finds this most unsettling and whilst Nick thinks it’s kinda cool, he desperately wants to find his shudder so he can fit in with everyone else in his small coastal town. When a mysterious stranger appears on the beach and offers to help, Nick jumps at the chance. This modern myth by Anna Beecher is a vibrant, young hero’s journey through a dark underworld of a solo performance with good potential.

Daniel Holme tells Nick’s story with sweet, wide-eyed naiveté, making the people he encounters in the big city after his father sends him away all the more threatening. The gang of men with green gloves who claim they will help him find his shudder through increasingly extreme tasks builds suspense and danger to a climax in Beecher’s script that Nick only vaguely understands. An open ending and some unanswered questions are a bit of a letdown, but otherwise her script is a good piece of storytelling.

Holme’s performance does a good job at keeping the audience’s attention, though more dramatic lighting design, projections and/or props would add visual variation and further increase the ebb and flow of his adventure. Beecher’s language contains some gorgeous moments of imagery and dystopia that certainly deserve to be supported further through a strong design concept and a larger space that grants more freedom of movement to Holme.

Skin of the Teeth is a strong character monologue that can work well on its own, but also has scope to develop further into an action-driven, multiple character script. The story is a good concept though in its current incarnation in a small venue, it is limited in its power. Beecher is a promising writer with dynamic ideas who, with more resources, has the power to make even greater impact.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.

Leaper: A Fish Tale, Greenwich Theatre

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Our oceans are dying. Just yesterday, the news reported that 95% of the Great Barrier Reef has been bleached due to temperature rises. There are huge swathes of sea with high concentrations of microplastics that leach toxins into the water and the food chain. We are overfishing our oceans, causing a myriad of problems to human and sea life.

Tucked In is trying to change that through Leaper: A Fish Tale, an adventure story for families about a young girl’s discoveries in the world’s waterways. The unnamed daughter isn’t particularly interested in her dad’s fish farm and wreaks more havoc than anything else. But after falling into the stream in pursuit of a dropped crisp packet, she makes friends with Leaper the salmon on her journey from stream, to river, to ocean and back again. Good puppetry and movement keep younger ones engaged in this surprisingly complex story, though at times it feels a bit too convoluted and the lack of dialogue is unnaturally forced.

With an impressive array of animal puppets by Claire Harvey and Annie Brooks’ transformative set, there’s plenty to look at in the show’s recycled aesthetic. The larger puppets have an excellent range of movements, particularly the duck, seal and big fish. The rubbish monster is the most wonderfully inventive surprise, and the large jellyfish are poetry in motion. The smaller puppets are understandably simpler, but less dynamic with fewer moving parts. The baby fish, though sweet in the way the human characters treat them, are harder to see and not particularly interesting in and of themselves. The design really comes into its own in the middle of the ocean, with atmospheric lighting and sound to match.

Though the show wants to address both overfishing and ocean pollution, the littering is the primary focus. It makes sense as children may struggle with the concept of overfishing, but the plot points on the topic are consequently less engaging. There aren’t many of them though, and the focus is almost solely on the girl’s (Lizzie Franks) journey.

The performances by Franks, Philip Bosworth and Robert Welling are engaging and precise, though the reason for minimising speech is unclear. There are plenty of vocal effects, but character communication and actor impulses feel unnaturally limited. It doesn’t interfere with the story and the children in the audience aren’t bothered, but it doesn’t contribute to the production style.

Leaper: A Fish Tale is visually compelling with some great puppetry and an engaging story for children and adults alike. The performances are good and the story has all the necessary components of a satisfying adventure tale with a clear moral. Though there are some small issues, they don’t interfere with the overall enjoyment of the piece, and this show could play a powerful role in raising engaged, environmentally conscious young people.

Leaper: A Fish Tale is touring schools and theatres in April.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.