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Chester Tuffnut (Susan Elkin reviews)

26 June, Polka Theatre Wimbledon, 240 The Broadway, London SW19 1SB

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This little show exudes charm, looks and sounds attractive and comes well loaded with lots of messages for the tiniest theatre goers. And it sits happily in Polka Theatre’s intimate studio space which is aptly called the Adventure Theatre.

Rosanna Lowe’s 40 minute play has a classic three act structure, Chester, the tree mole (a rather amorphous long armed green puppet with mole-style paws) wakes, he has adventures in Woodland World, then he goes back to sleep. The middle “act” consists of a series of scenes in which Chester meets and tries to play with the other animals in the sanctuary including a spider, ants, snails, bats, an owl and butterflies. It’s a nicely scripted piece – although repeated overuse of the word “extraordinary” is an irritant – which teaches children a fair bit about animals. Bats are nocturnal. Ants carry bits of leaf. Snails get friendly and produce little snails.

The puppetry is delightful and the shy, languorous velvety snails (designer Robyn Wilson-Owen) are particularly inspired. Amy Tweed puppets Chester, in this three hander – and gives him a rather splendid idiolect by changing consonants in words. Clare Fraenkel gives her character – usually the one to offer mother-to-child style advice to Chester – a very plausible and pleasant manner. Sanjay Shelat is good as the man in charge of the sanctuary as well as doing much of the puppetry and playing the ukulele.

The quite neat subtext of this play – which stops short of being clunkily worthy – is that Chester behaves more like a child than a mole. He skateboards and goes flying in a toy aircraft. He is also noisy, sometimes rude and has to learn how to behave conformably and to think of others. At one point he says sorry too. Plenty to absorb, then for the very small children who see it.

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Originally published by Sardines http://www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/reviews/review.php?REVIEW-Polka%20Theatre%20(professional%20productions)-Chester%20Tuffnut&reviewsID=2454
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Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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