Room on the Broom
Academics and literary theorists have sometimes argued that the world has just seven great stories and that all fiction derives from them. Room on the Broom, written as a preschool picture book by Julia Donaldson with illustrations by Axel Scheffler (2001) is a good example of that. It is essentially a quest narrative spliced with seeing off the monster so it feels very safe for a young audience. Everyone, even the very youngest, knows how it has to go. Yes, they will deal with the dragon and yes, the story will end where it started – although the framing device adds little or nothing.
Directed by Olivia Jacobs, this 60-minute, four-actor show uses much of the catchy rhyme from Julia Donaldson’s original book.
A witch (Jessica Manu) and her cat (Hannah Miller) set off on the former’s broomstick to confront a dragon (Jake Waring- great fun). Various other characters played by Waring and Peter Steele, join them en route. Friendship, teamwork and trust are, they gradually realise, vital to the success of the mission.
I admired the way several times, characters changed dramatically into something else on stage and Steele’s perky, tail-wagging puppeted dog is delightful. The distinctive accent work is also commendable: a plummy witch, a northern cat, American frog and estuary parrot, for example. It’s a witty mix.
On the other hand the songs (by John Fiber and Andy Shaw) are pretty feeble and forgettable until you get to the music hall pastiche sung by Jake Waring as the parrot (nice piano underneath) and the country and western number beautifully delivered by Steele with banjo accompaniment. The music is, of course, pre-recorded so some of the singing isn’t always as together as it might be.
Miller’s cat gives us plenty of feline movement and behaviour. And she finds all the petulance and jealousy the human side of the character needs before gradually settling into happy collaboration.
Manu gives us an engaging witch who commands the stage with her striking looks (red, purple and a really good hat) and fluid movement work.
The show is, however at least 10 minutes too long. Although the young children I saw it with were keen to join in the interactive bits – shouting “whoosh” to launch the broomstick and supplying missing rhymes from the narrative which many of them evidently knew well – there was also a lot of restiveness especially towards the end. A case for dropping the camping bit and starting with the real action perhaps?
First published by Sardines: https://www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/review/room-on-the-broom-2/
Photographs by Mark Senior