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Review: The Borrowers, Northern Stage until December 29

IS there anything quite like bright green velvet curtains for evoking the Christmas spirit?

The Borrowers, Northern Stage until December 29
The Borrowers, Northern Stage until December 29

IS there anything quite like bright green velvet curtains for evoking the Christmas spirit?

To be honest, the thought hadn’t entered my head until I saw the lush drapes at Northern Stage.

They don’t usually do curtains here but this dash of old-fashioned theatricality was a promise of seasonal magic to come.

Was I to be disappointed? Not at all. This is a charming and inventive telling of Mary Norton’s classic tale about the little people who live below our floorboards and account for all those odds and ends that go missing.

That it’s an upstairs, downstairs tale brings its own set of challenges.

The Borrowers – Pod, Homily and their headstrong daughter Arrietty – live below and the full-sized, heavy-footed humans reside above.

The difference in scale is managed beautifully with puppets, sound effects and Andrew Stephenson’s effective sets, the Borrowers’ little subterranean home furnished with giant matchboxes, buttons and the like.

Other than The Boy, a sickly child recently arrived from India, it’s the human servants we meet – fearsome cook Mrs Driver and puckish gardener Crumpfurl.

Ingrained in Borrower lore is the fact that never the twain must meet. Borrowers emerge discreetly to go about their business and the suspected fate of young cousin Eglantine is the cautionary tale used to curb Arrietty’s adventurous nature.

Inevitably, though, on her first excursion above the floorboards with Pod, the Borrower girl meets The Boy, setting in chain the events that will make this an exciting show for audience members of all ages.

There’s music – take a bow, Sam Kenyon – and dancing – likewise Liv Lorent – but clearly Charles Way’s script was fit for purpose.

A good cast of actors make the most of it. Frances McNamee, who can sing and dance well, is an attractively feisty Arrietty while Gary Kitching and Karen Traynor flesh out the characters of Pod and Homily, imbuing them with middle-aged frailties and uncertainties.

Matthew Cavendish is good as The Boy, trying to help the little folk, Bev Fox is terrifying as heavy-footed Mrs Driver and Tom Walton’s Crumpfurl resembles the kind of gardener who isn’t averse to imbibing something intoxicating in the potting shed.

Overseeing everything with her expert eye is director Erica Whyman and this is her Northern Stage swansong before she joins the RSC. It’s a lovely one to bow out with and a reminder of why she’ll be missed.

David Whetstone


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