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Watermill - Matilda and Duffy's Stupendous Space Adventure

26th November 2008 to 3rd January 2009.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Space: the festive frontier

The Watermill launches Christmas show to brighten up the bleak winter

Matilda and Duffy's Stupendous Space Adventure, at The Watermill, Bagnor, until January 3

The Watermill's Christmas shows, while not necessarily being that 'Christmassy' are always quality fare that have become an essential date in the festive diary of many families.

Unlike the productions of the past few years, which have either been based on literature or fairytales, this year's show has been newly-written by Steve Attridge, writer of the fondly-remembered 1990s BBC television adaptation of The Queen's Nose.

Matilda, who "dances like an elephant" and Duffy, "a broken fluffhead with a dopey face" are two damaged puppets facing consignment to the dustbin when they are brought to life and jettisoned on the music-drenched planet of Major-Minor, on a quest to save all things musical for the people of Earth.

In addition to being an original story, this show differs from many of its predecessors by being performed, not in the round or on the vegetation-entwined climbing frame of 2005's Jungle Book, but on a fairly straightforward stage set. The spartan set and props were in part taken to droll extremes to reflect that the puppets' adventure may be unfolding in their young owner's dreams, with the climates they passed through on their journey being represented by hand-thrown snow, mini cooling fans and light switch pulls (for an eclipse). However, I missed the visual lushness of previous productions, with just one scene, set in a garden of swaying, chiming and singing plants, displaying the real 'wow' factor.

The musical theme of the story did lend itself well to The Watermill's tradition of using actor/musicians in its Christmas shows, the six performers utilising their instruments in an understated way that meant it didn't seem strange that the otherwise dappy Duffy and clod-hoofed Matilda could play the saxophone and flute to a surprisingly competent standard.

Playwright Attridge and composer Olly Fox clearly had fun weaving snatches of grunge, drum & bass and ska into the production, and the cipher characters of the Rock Lizard King (more Bowie than Morrison), Space Punk (like Siouxsie Sioux on a really rough day), and the Yellow Submarine-era Beatlesque Minstrel were fun spots for the grown-ups, although the references were probably lost on most of the smaller people. But the characters were bright and lively enough to hold their attention, and the actors playing them proved their flexibility when George queried the whereabouts of the one-man band Corporal when they took their bows, not realising that she had also played the chief Peapod.

Space Adventure lacks the dash of fairydust that makes a must-see Watermill Christmas show, and the simplistic theme may not make it as popular with those who have children at the older end of the family outing age range, but it's a happy romp that will brighten up this particularly bleak winter for plenty of over-fives.