It's a kind of magic

14 April 2017

Skelling is full of heart and the feeling that everyone is having a good time, says Phoebe Graham​


A university-aged festgoer sits in the front row, fidgeting and sniffing as their hand becomes coated in a layer of teardrop dew. They immediately rise to their feet as the story closes. Skellig, originally written by David Almond, is a touching and charming choice to balance out a heavily political festival, showing that there’s really no such thing as being too old for a children’s story.

Through puppetry, unlikely friendship and bucket-loads of joy, Skellig tells the story of a boy called Michael who, lonely and uncertain amidst his baby sister’s illness, finds a dying little creature in his garage. Along with his friend Mina, Michael nurses Skellig back to life, who then grows the wings to set Michael’s sister free.

Set in traverse, a grass pathway leads left/right to Michael’s house on one side, and leads right/left to his garage on the other (depending on which side you’re sat). Earthy coloured comforting clutter contrasts against the white, clean and clinical coats and beds of the hospital where Michael’s sister is fighting for her life.

The story gets off to a slow-paced start, yawning and dragging itself through until the wrinkled Skellig emerges from under the cobwebs. From this point, the show starts to expand outwards from the confines of the traverse. Ladders and streets and puppeteers form and fade around the circumference of the theatre, immersing its audience into Michael’s world of healing love.

Storytelling is only as good as the quality of its heart, and Skellig’s is full and ready to burst. The ensemble of Shennagins Theatre gets slicker as the play goes on, but there’s a real therapeutic feeling that everyone is just having a wonderful time, making you want to get up, puppeteer and join in the narration of Michael’s story.

Ashley Sharpe and Chloe Allen, as Michael and Mina, exude a mesmerising naivety and innocence against Skellig’s roughly comic beastliness, given voice by Matthew Simmonds. This results in a dynamic that could enchant audiences both young and old. It’s also refreshing to see mature students featuring within a piece, enhancing the beautiful sense of community that NSDF conveys. The eccentric passion of Lee Jones especially has you smiling from ear to ear.

To capture the magic and bursting imagination held within a children’s novel means that there isn’t a need to stay within the boundaries of realism when translating to stage. This is most clearly illustrated in a delicate section of shadow puppetry that, hand-in-hand with aching accompaniment, absorbs and entrances. A hanging desire is left for more of these cleverly conjured moments and for a greater caressing of the suspension of disbelief accentuated and encouraged for literary adaptation.

Skellig has really spread its wings, but they could still go that little bit further.


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