Watermill Theatre - The Borrowers
16th November to 31st December 2017
Review from Newbury Theatre.
The Borrowers are tiny people, about the size of mice, who live beneath the floorboards in the house of Human Beans. They hide themselves from the humans and ‘borrow’ things from them to furnish their pad and feed themselves. One day, The Boy, visiting the house, finds them and thus begins a series of adventures leading to their ‘emigrating’ to an old boot in a field and finally to a model village where there are other Borrowers.
It’s based on Mary Norton’s books and brilliantly adapted by Theresa Heskins, but it immediately poses problems for director Paul Hart and designer Toots Butcher: how do you bring out the difference in size between the Borrowers and the Human Beans? Easy to do in film or cartoon, but on the stage? The answer is a multi-level set with the Humans and the Borrowers appearing at different levels. This is initially confusing – The Boy dangling a tiny Borrower on a string at a hole at the front of the stage while the real Borrower jerks about above him on a rope from the ceiling – but we soon get used to it, although my co-reviewer did need a little explanation in the interval.
This is traditional Watermill in the sense of actor-musicians and not-a-pantomime. Indeed, there’s almost no audience interaction, but if you want singalong and “oh no she isn’t” and “he’s behind you” there are plenty of other options available at this time of year.
The three main characters are mum and dad Borrowers Homily and Pod and their daughter Arrietty. Pod (Matthew Romain) is the hunter-gatherer while Homily (Charlotte Workman) is the stay-at-home moany mum. Arrietty (Nenda Neurer) longs to escape from their home and see the big wide world. The three work well together and clamber about the set energetically. I particularly liked Pod’s attempts to scare a War Horse style crow, athletically but unsuccessfully until he sneezes.
Frazer Hadfield, as The Boy, tries to help the Borrowers while Natasha Karp gives a convincingly nasty performance as Mrs Driver the housekeeper who tries to exterminate them – she’s the nearest thing we get to a villain. A variety of other roles are taken by Ed MacArthur and Anna Fordham, who got a round of applause for her operatic cricket.
The movable set was impressive, if a bit confusing at times and the whole production was energetic and fun. It’s a dramatic piece with good songs and music although there aren’t a lot of laughs. The kids in the audience seemed rapt.
My co-reviewer Ellie said:
I liked The Boy best as he was a friend to the Borrowers, and I liked the woman who was the baddy. The best bit was when we found that Eggletina didn’t get eaten by the cat. It was funny when they slid down the slide into the boot. It was good where they had to change into different clothes but better if there were more people! I liked it when the upstairs people were talking to the downstairs ones.
It was better than TV because there was a lot going on all around and it was all real people.
PAUL SHAVE and ELEANOR SHAVE (age 6)
Review from the Newbury Weekly News.
The Watermill Christmas show opens
The Borrowers, at The Watermill, Bagnor, until Sunday, December 31
The Watermill plays to its strengths with artistic director Paul Hart's vibrant actor-musician-style production of Mary Norton's children's favourite The Borrowers, adapted by award-winning writer- director Theresa Heskins. Toots Butcher's set design looks stunning, with its backdrop of a musical score and ink-splattered scribbles. There are colourful models of giant pencils and a partly-broken child's abacus. A number of crates, patterned with letters and numbers, are scattered on the stage.
The Borrowers are little people, mistaken for fairies, living below the floorboards of a country house. The head of the family is Pod (Matthew Romain), an intrepid recycler of unwanted household goods such as playing cards, half-scissors, cotton reels and so on.
Pod's wife Homily (Charlotte Workman) fusses a lot over her more intrepid daughter Arrietty (Nenda Neurer). Arrietty is an advocate for female emancipation by convincing her father that being a girl should not stop her going on his borrowing sorties. There's a strong ecological theme to the narrative. The Borrowers' ecosystem is threatened by the house servants Crampfurl (Ed MacArthur) and Mrs Driver (Natasha Karp). Arrietty is worried about population decline. Contemporary issues such as migration are depicted in an exciting scene when the family escapes capture by the humans and embarks on a dangerous journey to their new home.
Frazer Hadfield as the friendly owner’s son, who helps the Borrowers, and Anna Fordham, with some hilarious comic opera lines, complete the cast.
A fascinating element of the production is how the four non-Borrower cast members are used. As well as playing all the other characters, they shift scenery, form the band, and act as Inside Out-like emotions for the Borrowers' reactions.
There's plenty of humour as when the family, along with daredevil helper Spiller (MacArthur, doubling), ride the rapids in a boat made from a beautifully-designed old sardine tin.
They wave their arms frantically, the tin tilted hazardously. Unexpectedly, there's a cheeky freeze frame, a flash of light, and it's the fairground ride moment for a photo opportunity. With well-delivered songs, superb music and engaging performers, The Borrowers is a perfect family treat.
Review from British Theatre Guide.
Mary Norton’s charming children’s book The Borrowers, adapted by the award-winning writer and director Theresa Heskins, is a sheer delight at Newbury’s Watermill Theatre.
Artistic Director Paul Hart’s inspired staging brings the tiny characters to life in this imaginative production, using the signature format of actor-musicians to tell the story.
The Borrowers are little people no bigger than 5 inches tall who live under the floorboards of a large country house where they “borrow never steal” items from the Human Beans to furnish their modest underground home.
Toots Butcher’s stunning set with a backdrop of painted scribbles and musical notes, a huge abacus that’s used as a ladder, children’s alphabet blocks that provide seats and tables with a playing card as a table and gigantic pencils creates the scale superbly.
The head of this tiny household is Pod, energetically performed by Matthew Romain as he makes sorties up the curtains and into the Human Beans’ home to gather unwanted treasure such as half scissors or cotton reels but most importantly avoiding being seen.
Charlotte Workman is Pod’s practical wife, fussing over the family and in particular her spirited daughter Arrietty, the excellent Nenda Neurer. She wants to join her father in his adventures upstairs convincing him that just because she’s a girl she should be allowed to go ‘borrowing’.
Unfortunately, she is ‘seen’ by a boy (Frazer Hadfield) who is convalescing following his stay in India and befriends Arrietty. He gives the family furniture from the doll’s house to make their lives more comfortable.
Their nemesis is the housekeeper Mrs Driver (Natasha Karp) and the crotchety gardener Crampfurl (Ed MacArthur) who are determined to get rid of these ‘fairies’.
They smoke them out and the family escape, assisted by cousin Spiller, in a boat made from a huge sardine tin to ride the rapids. In a hilarious moment, they pause as a flash photo is taken of them as if they are on a ride in a theme park.
Their journey out into the wide world to find their relatives is a hazardous one, as they have to cross open fields and they seek shelter in a large discarded boot as the rain in the form of stress balls pours onto the stage.
However, there is a happy ending when the Borrowers find a model village to make their home.
Tarek Merchant’s lively musical score is skilfully played by the company and one of the stand out numbers is the bluesy “Cover’s an Art”.
The Borrowers is the perfect alternative to pantomime and an ideal family seasonal treat and is highly recommended.
There are reviews from The Stage ("a warm and gentle family show" - 3 stars), Muddy Stilettos ("captivating from start to finish... you will not be disappointed"), WhatsOnStage ("a big-hearted, inclusive, satisfying family show" - 4 stars) and Henley Standard ("superb performances from the able cast of actor-musicians, and imaginative direction from the theatre’s artistic director, Paul Hart... a delightful and charming piece of theatre").