Watermill Theatre - Just So
30th July to 4th September 2021
Review from Newbury Theatre.
Settle down, best beloved, for two hours of gentle storytelling in the Watermill’s garden. Just So is a melding of five of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories into a family musical by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe.
The Eldest Magician (Nathanael Campbell) provides the link between them, from the Time of the Very Beginnings when he had created the earth and the sea and the animals. But the Giant Crab didn’t want to be told what to do by the Eldest Magician so it went off on its own into the sea and started making the sea waters rise and fall. The Elephant Child (Eleanor Kane), who was always asking questions, decided to go on a quest with the Kolokolo Bird who couldn’t fly (Emma Lucia) to persuade the Giant Crab to stop. They start at the great grey-green greasy Limpopo River and make their way out to sea. During their adventures they meet many other creatures, finally ending back where they started.
As a musical, it’s big on songs, light on speech – The Parsee Cake-Walk had a catchy rousing tune and Jungle Light was a haunting song – and the small outdoor stage is always packed with singers and players, cleverly choreographed by Chi-San Howard.
It all moves along at a great pace and there are some stand-out performances in a strong cast. Musical director Dan de Cruz plays Parsee Man and Jaguar with brio, Alexander Bean makes a great Rhino and Campbell brings calm and authority to the Elder Magician. Laura Andresen Guimarães and Kemi Clarke were confident and sang well in their professional debuts. Peter Mooney and Emma Jane Morton as Kangaroo and Dingo had a good three-round fight in the second half.
It’s not easy getting the voices to reach a scattered crowd in the garden. Some of the cast achieved this easily while others had difficulty competing with the River Lambourn. As they were all miked up, a bit of volume tweaking should be able to sort this out.
Abigail Pickard Price directs a show that is charming and fun, which should appeal to families – maybe aged seven and upwards – and is an excellent introduction to Kipling’s stories. Read them to yourself, your children and grandchildren.
Just So is just so enjoyable.
Review from the Newbury Weekly News.
Kipling with pizzaz
Just So was first performed at the Watermill Theatre in 1989 and it was good to see it return to its ‘home’ for this 2021 semi-staged concert production, with George Stiles who wrote the music and Anthony Drewe the lyrics in the audience.
Based on Rudyard Kipling’s delightful children’s stories, this effervescent musical feast is blessed by a terrific cast who exude energy and pizzazz as they bring the tales to life.
Different coloured dungarees (costumes designed by Katie Lias), cleverly reflect the animals characters and the imaginative set uses large illustrations as if from a picture book to suggest The Jungle – or Veldt – worked well.
The excellent Nathanael Campbell is the eldest magician and our storyteller, who opens the magical storybook and begins “at the time of the very beginning” as he creates all the creatures in the world. However, they all look the same and so he tasks them to find their individuality and “go out to play together”.
But all is not well as the elephants need to find higher ground when the Earth begins to flood as Pau Amma the giant crab causes havoc with the tides as he searches for food.
The intrepid insatiably curious elephant child (Eleanor Kane) and the exotic flamingo Kolokolo Bird (Emma Lucia), complete with pink feather boa, set off on a quest to find him in the “dark grey-green greasy Limpopo River” to try to persuade him to change his ways.
Their sea journey takes them to a desert island where they find the flamboyant Parsee Man (Dan De Cruz) sipping cocktails. He also plays a sleek jaguar and is the musical director for the show.
He is served by his devoted Cooking Stove, complete with chef’s hat, played by Peter Mooney, who also provides much comedy as a Kangaroo.
Laura Andresen Guimarães as the Zebra and Emma Jane Morton playing the Giraffe are portrayed as typical Essex girls. But little did they know that the Jaguar and the Leopard (Kemi Clarke) are planning to “take the girls out for dinner”… quite literally.
Along the way we learn how the Rhino (Alexander Bean) got his wrinkly skin.
Eventually the Elephant Child arrives at the Limpopo River where he asks the crocodile for help, but gets his nose trapped in his jaws – well a suitcase, clever touch – and as he tries to escape, his trunk grows. So that’s how he got his long trunk.
As to the crab, he is shrunk to normal size and the seas return to normal. Mission complete, proving that an individual with courage can make a difference.
The musicianship of this highly-accomplished cast is impressive, each playing a wide variety of instruments, and Christopher Jahnke’s orchestration raises the bar.
Director Abigail Pickard Price creates a show brimming with inventiveness. This is a family show not to be missed Oh Best Beloved.
There are reviews from What's On Stage ("joyous action-packed show... wonderful storytelling and the lightest family-friendly touch" - ★★★★), Wokingham Today ("a consistently fantastic cast... fun for adults and anyone with an interest in musicals and the natural world"), PocketSize Theatre ("another talented cast of actor-musicians" - ★★), Musical Theatre Review ("another theatrical “rendezvous with relish” for which the Watermill should be justly proud" - ★★★★).