This is a wee piece of magic. Congrats to writer and performer Toby Thompson, dramaturg/director Lee Lyford and the team. This work – developed by the egg’s (Theatre Royal Bath) Incubator idea development programme and Bristol’s brilliant Travelling Light Theatre – is a treasure.
Writer/performer and former Glastonbury Poetry Slam Champion Toby Thompson has adapted Hermann Hesse’s fairy tale Faldum, and presents it in a way that opens the story so wide that we can step inside. This is exactly what you want in a fairytale without fairies, a fable without animals – let’s call it a ‘magical’. And it’s a ‘magical’ for the whole family (7+, but only because younger ones’ attentions need more bright pzang than this thoughtful, wandering wonder).
The tone of this pocket-sized beauty is gentle, thoughtful, beguiling and warm. It’s full of music and surprise-giving mechanics, from pop-up books and plywood village houses that just keep giving. The set (beautifully designed by Anisha Fields), lighting (George Seal), sound design (Jonathan Everett) and direction are pitch-perfect.
Toby welcomes us into a tale. And we’re drawn in, deeper and deeper, through his regular, kindly reminders that the people inside it were just like us, but without the TVs, ‘phones or Facebook (“just faces. And books.”) And getting even closer, he’s just like us; we’re just like him. He’s maybe a bit nervous about remembering all his lines, he says, just as we might be nervous – every audience is, about calling out hello.
But the beating heart of this show is Toby’s tale. And that’s in his manner, as much as in the story. Never patronising – and avoiding the boho-saccharine of some ‘fairy-tale’ theatre – he shares this world so generously that it will be yours as soon as you hear it. The sounds, the characters, their flights of fancy. From the silent road to the hubbub of the fair and frenzy of the crowd; the friendships, love, yearnings and song.
Like all special stories, this is one about both the crowd and the individual – and about how each of us is unique – and yet not so different we’re isolated. My seven-year old reviewing assistant wondered afterwards about the themes of wanting and wishing, of desiring and possessing. I won’t have been the only adult in the audience to nudge their shorter neighbour when Thompson said, “once we’ve got it, we don’t always want it anymore”.
If you’re a fan of Hermann Hesse, you’ll understand when I say this show will beat with your heart, resonant and unique. If you’ve never encountered him – or Toby Thompson – I can’t think of a better way to meet. You have ’til 30 September.
I Wish I Was A Mountain the egg, Theatre Royal Bath, Sept 21-30. For more info, visit www.theatreroyal.org.uk/event/i-wish-i-was-a-mountain
Top pic: Jack Offord