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The Clock Master
Published on Monday, 30 May 2011

4 stars

Marlborough Theatre (venue website)
28-30 May, 5:00pm-6:10pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Family-friendly. Suitable for all ages.

In this stylish, captivating family show, we’re invited into the enchanted workshop of the mysterious Clock Master – a man for whom every object holds a story, and who himself holds the power to bring those stories to life.  When a selfish young girl with no time for the past brings an antique watch to trade, the Clock Master resolves to show her the error of her ways.  Using storytelling, drama and some elegant puppetry, he and his assistants turn back the clock… unveiling the charming and thought-provoking stories his mechanical trinkets contain.

There’s a sense of déjà vu surrounding Dewi Evans’ portrayal of the Clock Master: young, quirky and shabby, both his persona and his role owe much to Matt Smith’s Doctor Who.  But that’s nothing to be ashamed of: he captures that fantasy-sci-fi mix of eccentricity and wisdom, even if he doesn’t have quite the gravitas you’d expect from an all-knowing narrator.  Perhaps there’s a slight hint of inner darkness missing as well; after all, like all ancient fairy tales, his stories have a kernel of evil.

But Evans is just the lead member of a slick four-person ensemble, who switch roles with fluid ease as they bring their tales to life.  Props and costumes are deliberately sketchy, leaving our imaginations to fill the details in, and the children present seemed fully engrossed by the well-paced action on stage.  Lawrence Illsley’s guitar accompaniment is nicely pitched, modelled perhaps on a lute-playing minstrel, and then there's the puppetry – a genre which, I admit, I tend to respect more than I enjoy.  This time, though, I was won over by the enthusiastic dog made from a feather boa, which came down into the audience to play with the girls and boys.

The stories themselves are subtly-told morality plays.  They cover the perils of avarice, the need to accept loss, and the power of friendship (even if it is with a flute-playing monkey).  The tales are simple to follow but the lessons are fairly well-disguised, leaving plenty to talk through afterwards with your little ones.  And like in all the best Disney films, some jokes just for grown-ups are woven in – but don’t worry, they rely on wordplay, not innuendo.

There’s a curious theme of incompletion linking all of the tales, and each narrative ends without a conventional happy-ever-after.  The lingering sense of unfinished business didn’t quite work for me, though it’s nice to see stories which reflect the uncertainties of life.  In any case, with a delicate rhythm, occasional rhyme, and a clever concept to link it all, the skilful storytelling overcomes any doubts.  The Clock Master’s time has come.

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