The Magic Storybook Reviews from 1991
FINANCIAL TIMES 23.12.91 – ” The Oxford Stage Company’s The Magic Storybook is the first Christmas family show at the Oxford Playhouse for five years. It comprises five traditional folk tales stretching from mime to pantomime: fresh, exuberant and free from clutter. It is an utterly enchanting evening. John Retallack directs. The five pieces include Jack and the Beanstalk wonderfully mimed and narrated by the cast of seven in bold technicolour. They gather to become a tree or a pair of gates, and jump as the stage vibrates to the ogre’s tread. Watch out for Andrew Dennis as the Ogre in brilliant miming form as he falls to earth when the beanstalk is cut, and Penelope Dimond as his long-suffering wife serving up cold fricassee of Englishman. Snake Magic, a violent African fable, tells of a brother (Karl James) and sister (Jan Alphonse) forced to choose between their father’s worldly goods and his blessing; the girl takes the latter, the wicked brother the former. She becomes an outcast befriended by a wonderful sibilant snake (Carol Redford) who provides her with the requisite magic kit to win the prince, build the palace and lay on the banquet. Nicola Burnett Smith sings the narration (composed by Howard Goodall) beautifully. The Good Clown and the Bad Clown looks more like straight pantomime, although there is no cross-dressing (the only Dames in Oxford are DBEs). This tale also lets the audience contribute, so the NorthOxford under-fives, some of whom will have penned a couple of their own pantos by now, fell to booing and hissing at the desired moments.
The best of the bunch is Anansi, the Brere Rabbit of East Africa (played by Andrew Dennis), who tricks a witch out of half her gold by sweeping up her house and guessing her name. It is really Rumpelstiltskin in the Augean Stables plus menagerie, for the other characters are all animals: Clive Duncan’s underwear-eating goat and Jan Alphonse’s strutting peacock are particularly good. This one is played, curiously, in Jamaican English, not African. Finally, where but inCinderella can one find the golden line, “The Prince will marry whomsoever this shoe fits”? The ugly sisters, high-heeled horrors fresh from the cocktail party, hack at their feet to get the fit, but leave a trail of tell-tale blood in the aisle. Who said children’s tales were long on fairy and short on grim? ”
THE NEW STATESMAN December 1991 “The Magic Storybook presented by the Oxford Stage Company at the Oxford Playhouse to 5 January, which attempts to have its cake and eat it: Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk are performed alongside folk tales from Africa, America and the West Indies. In other words, the show is both traditional and multi-ethnic. And why peform one story in an evening when you can do five instead? Full of goodwill towards readers, in the never-ending quest for new stimulations to recommend, I entered the Playhouse as a lone adult in a sea of kids and parents. I might have been a paedophile on the prowl, but no-one in the audience seemed that bothered, so engrossed were they in events on the stage. There are no stars, crap or otherwise. Seven performers, mostly women, use little set or props, wear bright colours and tell their stories in a vivid and inventive way. The show is ideologically sound and enjoyed by children – impossible, you’d have thought.”