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The Jabberwocky
Published on Tuesday, 09 August 2011
3

3 stars

theSpaces @ Surgeons Hall (venue website)
Childrens
15-20, 22-27 Aug, 11:05am-11:55am
Reviewed by Craig Thomson

 Family-friendly. Suitable for all ages.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son! / The jaws that bite, the claws that catch! / Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun / The frumious Bandersnatch!" Words to live by, you'll agree, and words too that are the launching point for this pleasant new production for children.

Of all the nonsense written by Lewis Carroll – and there is a lot – the tale of the Jabberwock may be the most famous, familiar to many from childhood books of rhyme.  It was first published in Alice Through the Looking Glass, where no less a linguistic authority than Humpty Dumpty attempts to explain it to us.  But not even he could put Carroll's playful verbal omelette back together again; and that is where Edinburgh theatre group Pop-up Productions come in.

The action follows Jack (the go-to name for fairy tale heroes) through his own Alice-style dreamscape, brought on by a bedtime reading of Carroll's poem, encountering the fantastical mimsy borogoves, slithy toves and frumious Bandersnatches.  Elle Wilson is excellent in the lead role, equipped with a vorpal sword and a boyish crop, and the supporting ensemble does well to create a convincing array of creatures with pared-back props and costumes.  Particularly effective is sidekick Rabbit, anxiously darting away at times of trouble for his own off-stage adventures with tea parties and girls who grow to enormous heights.

The play was devised, in part, as a response to the questions of author Suzy Enoch's three-year old daughter, and has a strong theme of examining and explaining the invented language.  We learn that the unfortunate nonce word 'mimsy', for instance, is a portmanteau of 'miserable' and 'flimsy'. As for 'Jabberwock' itself, 'jabber' is an accepted term for talking nonsense and, as Rabbit slyly reminds us, "the Anglo-Saxon word 'wocer' or 'wocor' signifies 'offspring' or 'fruit'."  The children present were perhaps too young to really appreciate the point, or to devise their own combinations on the spot, but they enjoyed loudly persuading Jack he was strave enough to defeat the Jabberwock (that's 'strong' and 'brave').

I particularly enjoyed the physical theatre elements, as black-shirted actors formed washbasins, mirrors and beds on a bare set in lieu of props.  One unfortunate child was so traumatised by these inventive (and inoffensive) transformations that mother had to retire to the lobby to regain some composure.  I guess everyone's a critic; all the other youngsters watching were entranced.  Any occasional slips in dialogue – necessarily, the play is quite wordy – were recovered well by the cast.

The Jabberwocky is a charming, if slight, family entertainment that will delight young children.  The group are moving to a bigger performance space in the same venue from next week, and this should make the fourth-wall breaking flights of fancy run smoother (and make the mome rath riding a little less hair-raising).  Get along, and get your gyring and gimbling shoes on.

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