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The Terrible Infants, Wilton’s Music Hall, review: ‘Blend of Gothic eccentricity and traditional storytelling’

PUBLISHED: 11:30 11 October 2017

The Terrible Infants. Picture: Rah Petherbridge

The Terrible Infants. Picture: Rah Petherbridge

Rah Petherbridge

A white-faced performer emerges from a suitcase to tell a tall tale about a girl who lies.

With its blend of Gothic eccentricity and traditional storytelling, this Olivier-nominated show, inspired by 19th century cautionary tales for children, is the perfect fit for the faded glamour of an old music hall.

On Wilton’s raked stage, a quartet of actor-musicians find endlessly inventive ways to relay these strange, absorbing stories - and all while maintaining an almost continuous score, which periodically breaks into a joyful fiddle solo or haunting song.

Rather brilliantly, these twisted tales told from the tailgate of a tumbril are also in alliterative verse.

There’s a touch of Tim Burton about Finbar, who wants to be a fish but falls foul of a mendacious mermaid and meets an unpleasant end involving batter, salt and vinegar.

Fingus has fungus but refuses to wash so is shunned and bullied by his fellow pupils – no saccharine idealisation of childhood this. Thingummy boy is a disturbing, hooded, faceless child puppet who declines to take part in life and so simply disappears.

And Dame Judi Dench lends superb narration to the story of Blethering Bea who won’t stop yakking about herself until a honey-crazed bear puts a stop to her bluster.

Threaded between is a story about storytelling itself, the tale of Tilly who tells so many fibs she grows a tail which takes on a life of its own.

Like the famously graphic Struwwelpeter, there’s horror, humour, silliness and ambiguous morals in among the old fashioned theatrical magic of shadow puppetry, music, mime. It shouldn’t give the average broadminded six year old too many nightmares.

The shabbiness of the aesthetic belies a well drilled slickness that has delighted audiences of all ages since it debuted a decade ago - at one stage an underwater scene is conjured by sleight of hand and a shoal of fluttering plastic.

Having gone on to deliver a brilliant immersive Alice in Wonderland, and about to open a show about renegade Russian feminist group Pussy Riot, Les Enfants are well on their way to becoming national treasures.

4/5 stars

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