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Review: Emily Brown and the Thing

A really lovely funny, seasonal show for very young children at Birmingham Hippodrome’s Patrick Studio until Sun Jan 6.

Production photos by Tall Stories

This is a really lovely, funny and inspired adaptation of Cressida Cowell’s popular children’s storybook about being scared, that very young children can easily relate to.

From the start the young audience are completely and utterly mesmerised by a disarming trio of actors in their PJs, along with puppetry and a witty soundtrack which includes the retro Ski Sunday theme tune. It’s been created for the stage by the fantastic Tall Stories (The Gruffalo and The Snail and the Whale).

The terrific trio at a recent storytelling sesh

The play opens with actor Sam Buitekant scratching his bottom, brushing his teeth and getting ready for bed. ‘I can’t go to sleep without a bedtime story,’ he confesses. When a small child sitting near the front pipes up enthusiastically: ‘I’ve got one!’ In fact the auditorium is full of lots of mini fans aged 3+ who’ve brought along their own copy of the book – very sweet.

Emily and the Thing is the tale of expert adventurer Emily Brown and her cuddly toy, Stanley the Rabbit. Emily likes to go to sleep in silence but is constantly interrupted by The Thing crying outside her bedroom. He is rather forlorn, not at all scary and looks like the top of a jay cloth mop. Intrepid Emily and Stanley embark on a series of adventures to find everything he needs for a good night’s sleep.

In matching yellow waterproofs Emily and Stanley go in search of a missing pink ‘cuddly’ adopted by a troll – but covered in his bogies (a real urrgh moment!) – into the snowy whirling wasteland looking for his bedtime milk where they encounter a polar bear kitted out in hand-knitted hat and claws. Finally, they descend into a cellar on a dark stage with their torches to find of special green medicine to cure Thing’s ‘very annoying’ cough.

Delightfully performed by three actors with child-like Sophie Alice as impulsive Emily Brown, Jordan Turner as a wise-cracking Stanley – more Bugs Bunny than Peter Rabbit – and Sam Buitekant doubling as The Thing, as well as providing amusing sound-effects over a micro-phone. There’s also a super cute miniature puppet version of each character. My favourite scene is when the actors imaginatively create a snowy hill from their white woollen scarves for the puppets to slide down.

Isla Shaw’s simple but ingenious set revolves around a wonky house and two trees. The house has a cleverly engineered multi-purpose front window and front door that can be pulled out and brought forward onto the stage. It’s 60 minutes long and just as some children might be getting a little restless in their seats our two amateur detectives meet an apologetic, self-confessed ‘terrible witch’ in green wig and dressing gown who cannot spell. The pair convince her she hasn’t lost her magic and can make everyone in the audience cheer – the kids all love this bit of interaction.

It ends on the reassuring note ‘to think of nice things’ before going to sleep and a voice-over of children and adults discussing their dreams.

Children aged 3+ can also get arty and make their own ‘Thing’ in free craft workshops running alongside the play

If you fancy combining a trip to the theatre with a day out in Birmingham, other indoor child-friendly indoor attractions include the newly refurbished Sealife Centre which has 4D showings of The Polar Express and Legoland Discovery Centre – an indoor Lego playground with rides, play zones and a 4D cinema.

The cast out-and-about at Ice Skate Birmingham

Emily and the Thing is on at until Sun Jan 6 at The Patrick Studio, Birmingham Hippodrome (easily accessible from the Thorpe Street entrance or Level 3 inside the theatre), birminghamhippodrome  

Find more ideas here

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