Manalive!

Box Tale Soup's latest show, Manalive, is an uplifting, intelligent and emotive triumph. Set in a dreary boarding house, a listless group of its boarders have their lives fundamentally changed by the mysterious, enigmatic Mr Innocent Smith. The show asks us: Do we appreciate the lives that we live? Are we really living our lives to the full? Or are we drifting through our days?

This show is far too good to spoil.

The company, who make all of their own props and set, and who created this adaptation of G.K Chesterson's novel, have blended performative styles and techniques to create a stunning piece of theatre that will mesmerize you. Original music, rhythmical poetry, physical theatre, puppetry and theatrical performance are all skillfully utilised, and what is striking is that all these forms of performance fit naturally into the narrative, keeping it fresh and interesting. The music, used throughout the show, sets a hopeful, almost mystical tone, and entertains us through the slick, minor set changes. The poetry is used to deliver information quickly, and also for comic effect. It is brilliantly performed with pace and energy by Antonia Christophers, and its contrast with the earlier theatrical performance keeps the audience's attention firmly on the story.

Noel Byrne and Christophers’ performance is littered with different accents and skilled puppetry, and their sincerity and commitment to their various characters makes this show a joy to watch. Innocent Smith, the largest puppet, is frequently attached to Byrne's feet, and is manipulated in such a way that cannot help but bring a smile to your face. Yet later, the drama and sinister edge that are brought to him and the other characters is astounding. In their theatrical scenes as Mr Moon and Miss Hunt too, Christophers and Byrne perform with wonderful chemistry.

Structurally sound, the performance makes use of flashbacks as yet another way of showing us information rather than simply telling us. Two distinct teams emerge as a way of drawing attention to the shows theme. On the one hand, the Gradgrinds of life, represented by the dullard Dr Warner; on the other, those who believe life is for the living.

That's perhaps the true beauty of Manalive: it inspires you, makes you smile and pushes you to appreciate some of the things that surround you every day. To say much more would give too much away, and this show is far too good to spoil.

Reviews by Andrew Forbes

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

Award-winning Box Tale Soup (Northanger Abbey, Casting the Runes) return with GK Chesterton's Manalive! featuring beautifully hand-crafted puppets and stunning original music. Beacon House, a broken-down boarding establishment, and its bored, brooding tenants, are about to receive a visitor. Someone who will turn their little lives upside down and show them a world of wonder they had long forgotten. But what if their new guest is not all he seems? What secrets lie beneath that bright exterior? How can you trust a man whose name is Innocent? ‘…a company to watch out for’ (AYoungerTheatre.com).