Review: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase - Credit: Archant

Eve Stebbing is impressed by an enchanting production of a much-loved children's tale at the Maddermarket Theatre in Norwich.

Jez Pike directs this snow-filled children's adventure with great verve. The Director of Productions has only been part of the Maddermarket team for just over a year, but it's clear that (unlike the ice-bound characters in this play) he has firmly found his feet.

No small achievement, considering the demands of this unique venue. It's a busy creative Mecca that gives expression to the talents of many fine actors not daft enough to give up the day job.

The intimacy of the theatre suits storytelling very well, and Joan Aiken's classic children's tale fits the space to perfection. Of course, like all good yarns, it has wound its way through several versions, and you may have encountered it first as a film directed by Stuart Orme with the likes of Mel Smith and Jane Horrocks in the leading roles.

But there's always something special about live theatre, and the atmosphere created by Pike's production is as good as the best fire-side storytelling. There's even a giant book on stage whose pages turn to reveal each scene.

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It's true that these characters owe more to pantomime than anything dreamed up in Aiken's original. But Russ Tunney's adaptation mostly sticks satisfyingly close to the text.

As cousins Sylvia and Bonnie battle it out against the evil machinations of wicked governess Miss Slighcarp, they run the gamut not only of the wolves in the woods but also the sly dealing of wicked London lawyer Mr Grimshaw.

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Moira Hickson is gentle and delightfully drippy as Sylvia. Deryn Andrews as Bonnie is vivacious and fun - her keen character observation brings much wit to the evening. The dastardly Grimshaw is portrayed by Trevor Burton as bumbling and vain enough to be truly comic. Tim Lane as Miss Slighcarp brings us the perfect villain (boo, hiss). But it is thanks to the chorus - David Newham, Charmaine Pullman and Etta Geras - that we are drawn into Aiken's strange, fairytale world so enchantingly.

Show-stealer on Saturday was the theatre's General Manager, Rebecca Wass, reading in for Glenda Gardiner. She kept this impressive production racing along despite the hole in the cast.

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