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REVIEW: Wilde Creatures, Warwick Arts Centre

This inventive adaptation of Oscar Wilde's fairytales about a selfless statue, a stroppy princess and a lovesick student is delightful, quirky family Christmas entertainment.

Photos courtesy of Tall Stories

Tall Stories’ delightfully fun and thoughtful Christmas family show is something of a revelation. Apart from The Selfish Giant, I’ve not read any of Oscar Wilde’s other fairytales.

Four animated actor-musicians present an inventive amalgamation of The Devoted Friend, The Nightingale and the Rose and The Birthday of the Infanta for children aged 5+ – seamlessly interlinked by zippy, fitting tunes. A simple set of wooden crates, covered with No Trespassing and Keep Off warning signs, is full of surprises.

Tall Stories – famous for their fantastically entertaining and successful stage adaptations of The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo’s Child –  created this production in 2017 for a 12-month celebration of Oscar Wilde at London’s Vaudeville Theatre. They drew on their very first Edinburgh Fringe show, The Happy Prince and Other Stories, for inspiration.

The Mayor is violin-playing local boy Tom Jude from Rugby, “I’m classically trained you know”.

The play starts at the end of The Happy Prince in which the selfless statue of the Happy Prince asks a swallow to give away his gold leaf and jewels to the poor. Once the Happy Prince is stripped of his beauty the Mayor sees how shabby the statue has become and has it pulled down. Then he and the town councillors debate who the replacement statue should be. The pompous Mayor played by Tom Jude, dressed in striking red top hat and tails, is convinced the statue should be him.  In the interests of democracy, characters from Wilde’s stories are put forward and the audience gets to choose in this topical debate: who should we put on a pedestal and why?

First up is Hans, a naïve, kindly gardener in The Devoted Friend. We meet him tending to his garden as one of the wooden crates opens up to reveal a bed of flowers. It’s a poignant, satirical short story about how friendship can be abused. Hans is asked by his friend the miller to undertake a serious of tedious chores during the winter when his flowers don’t grow on the promise of a wheelbarrow, ending in tragedy.

Next is the central character in The Nightingale and the Rose – a student, played by Steve McCourt. He goes in search of a red rose to impress the girl he likes, only to discover she prefers carnations!  The student has read the entire works of Shakespeare yet knows nothing of love. Lastly, The Birthday of the Infanta is a comic highlight with Lauren Silver’s stroppy and spoilt 12-year-old princess looking for instant entertainment from her gold quiff-wearing, bespectacled courtiers – she finds it in the form of Matt Jopling’s raspberry-blowing, snot-smearing wild boy who hilariously arrives shuffling on stage tied up in a sack. But should the statue be of her? 

Each story illustrates good and bad personality traits, and there’s a colourful, magical finale. Other influences include The Selfish Giant and The Remarkable Rocket. It’s captivating, well-acted and intelligently staged by writers and directors Olivia Jacobs and Toby Mitchell. Every child is given a packet of flower seeds to take home and plant too – a nice touch.

Wilde Creatures and The Canterville Ghost, a second new adaptation of the writer’s work which opens on Dec 18 for ages 12+, mark this innovative theatre company’s 21st anniversary. If you’re looking for high-quality alternative or quirky festive family entertainment of the non-panto variety, you can always rely on Warwick Arts Centre.

Wilde Creatures runs until Sun Dec 30 and The Canterville Ghost from Tues Dec 18-Sun Dec 30, warwickartscentre

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