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Clare’s Happy Monday

6:00 am 7:00 am

Hunting of the Snark

Written by on December 8, 2021

Charming an audience with smiles and soap

Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, and now the Masque theatre have all entertained me with nonsense. Not an easy thing to do, especially in current climes. There’s a pandemic and, even with one of their own being affected by having to distance tonight, the show went superbly on.

We start, as we did with the previous show by this troupe (The Maids), in the Holy Sepulchre. In a round. The audience are greeted by the narrative of The Jabberwocky, one of Carroll’s finest works and one that Beverley Webster [director and creator of this adaptation] used to inform the audience of the past. Echoing around the pillars and making great use of the acoustics of this fine building, different narrators, soon to transform into characters, gave us a necessary introduction into why we were soon to travel with a very off crew. “Previously, in Wonderland…”

I have never heard, or seen, Jabberwocky performed in such a way. Both my companion and I looked at each other and we knew that this was going to be an evening of ‘frabjous’ joy. Together we settled into this surreal world; her mulled wine and my mocktail both warming our insides while our eyes started to feast on the spectacle presented to us.

Nonsense does not mean meaningless though. Every aspect of the poems that were performed echo aspects of Victorian society and, using the refrain of how they hunted for the Snark with different items:

They sought it with thimbles, they sought it with care; They pursued it with forks and hope; They threatened its life with a railway-share; They charmed it with smiles and soap.

Nine characters set sail to find a legendary creature: The Snark. Together, they have many quirks and, aside from all having professions that begin with ‘B’, they ‘sail’ their way through the chapters or ‘fits’ that Carroll has prepared for them. Webster has chosen to use ‘Alice’ (Julia Fras) as a central figure, casting them also as the Baker to ensure they have a place on this nonsensical voyage.

Webster uses these items literally on a stage that has a tree, a ship, hosts two separate boats during the evening and, of course, a dream sequence of a courtroom. Because why not? Lear and Carroll filled their works with random imagery and thus the hard work of Mark Mortimer (set construction), Tamsyn Payne (costume design and props) and Claire Brittain (wardrobe) (guided by Emmi Fortune’s managerial hand) present different worlds from magical moment to ‘mimsy’ moment. We go from an island to a forest and are shocked and enchanted when mists roll in and creatures of unknown descriptions prowl towards us and each other. We seek the Snark though and, despite seeing them in a courtroom of dreams, the hunt must continue.

Pussycat (Maggie Holland-left) smiling as the Owl (Robert Kendall-right) has just purchased a ring from the Piggy-Wig (Toni Clarke-centre)

Interludes of Lear entertain magnificently and one cannot fail to smile as Rob Kendall and Maggie Holland declare their love for one another as the Owl and the Pussycat. We are charmed by their love and smirk at their language. Did Lear know his words ‘might’ have alternative meanings that adults would chuckle secretly at? Certainly not! Well, possibly. OK, he did, but this is just for children all right? “I thought you might have had a hernia” my companion whispered to me in the interval as we followed the Walrus (Beverley Webster) and Carpenter (Toni Clarke) up to the refreshment station, my eyes still wet from crying with laughter!

When the Jumblies entered, I knew that our drinks must have been mixed – this mummers’ play version of “some poetry” took my mind to another level and my childhood was rekindled, brought alive as I watched creatures I only had read of become animated and dance right in front of me. A wig and a pair of blue gloves per character; add some excellent movement and voila – Jumblies!

With my childhood awoken, I saw this play with great humour and was able to overlook the hiccoughs that happen on any opening night. Indeed, in the second act, Fras and others were now taking their vocal cues from the tremendous projections of Boots (Sue Whyte) and the Bellman (David Deegan) and all voices rang together in harmony, making proper use of the round’s challenges and opportunities. This, along with all the excellent physical movements of the Beaver (Jen Kenny), the Barrister (Mairead Kearins) and the Butcher (Will Brown), meant that every part of narrative was now understood, despite half of it being nonsensical.

The Beaver (Jen Kenny-left) and The Butcher (Will Brown-right) became best friends…

The second half whistled by quickly (too quickly?) and this was a shame – everyone seemed more relaxed and enjoying themselves more on stage. But all good things must come to an end and the Lobster Quadrille rounded off a fantastic evening of nonsense. The festive songs at the end seemed forced though and slightly discordant with the entirety of the evening. I understand why they were there – any ‘Christmas’ show has a great opportunity for a sing-along but perhaps only Merry Christmas should have been used; the full version of The Holly and The Ivy concentrated our imagination in a different direction, one that was less entertaining and more sacrificial. For me and my companion it distracted from the works of Lear and Carroll that had been excellently presented for the last two hours and drew us away from the fantastic to the religious. Yet the image of a Luminous Nose still lingered in the air for us and our laughter caused by the great acting of Roger Toone will keep me smiling for a good few days to come!

Roger Toone lighting up the show…

A great show that is sure to entertain children and adults alike – grab a ticket while you can!

The Masque Theatre’s The Hunting of the Snark plays until Saturday 11th December, with a matinee as well on the Saturday. Tickets are available here

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