Masters of puppets

14 April 2017

There's a warmth and charm to Skellig, thanks to a strong ensemble and thoughtful design, says Joseph Winer


David Almond’s Skellig, produced by Shennagins Theatre, tells the story of a young boy, Michael, who finds a mysterious creature in the garage of his new home while his new-born sister is struggling with a heart condition. The production is beautifully staged in traverse; on one side, the garage that has been designed with thoughtful detail, on the other, Michael’s home, with the space in between layered with grass for all the other scenes to take place upon.

The play script itself is a fairly accurate adaptation of David Almond’s original novel, and the limited plot of the story does struggle to maintain itself for the full length of this production. It seems as if we’re going back and forth a lot, with not much really happening. We expect it to end… and then it continues for another few scenes.

That being said, script aside, this production is a magical example of what children’s theatre ought to be. The characters are animated and colourful. Chloe Allen, as Mina, provides a warmth and charm, capturing the subtleties of child-like behaviour. Ashley Sharpe, as Michael, performs with a sense of naivety, with the adorable tendencies resonant of a 10 year old; he’s also tender and plays moments of worry or sadness with a timidity that makes it hard to not sympathise with him, although at times he could do with toning down his idiosyncrasies a tad, occasionally seeming a few years younger than he should be. Lee Jones is a stand-out from the ensemble, providing heaps of comedy moments with intriguing absurdities that make his performance a joy to watch and be entertained by.

The Skellig puppet, made purposefully for the show, has been crafted into a small old man with feathery-wings that expand outwardly from his shoulders. He is manipulated to give him a genuine sense of life, with precision, breath and delicacy. There are moments of magic in this production, particularly the shadow show that appears towards the end of the play, cast against a white sheet at the end of the stage to help narrate a part of the story. The music is well selected to affirm the tone and location, while the lighting design brings the night-time to life, casting shapes against the floor to differentiate the spaces.

While the script has its faults and goes on for a little too long, Skellig achieves a genuine reaction of happiness and laughter from its audience, with its traverse staging allowing us to share the joy with those sitting on the other side. It is a visually elegant and beautifully portrayed piece of children’s theatre, which I think I can safely say would be enjoyable for the whole family (perhaps if you cut out the bollocks, that is!).


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Photo credit: Giulia Delprato