Barry Bonaparte’s Travelling Circus is in trouble. Its last surviving animals – the magician’s doves – have ended up in a pie. The memory man is repeatedly forgetting how to find his way home. The aerialist has vertigo. Destitution seems inevitable; and then, in the best fairy tale tradition, salvation appears in the unlikely form of a talking pig called Edmund. Never one to wallow in the mud like his siblings, the young Edmund taught himself to read and write and has now come to London on a “sacred mission” to find his missing brothers and sisters.
A stylish, warm-hearted show for all the family, told with real bravado.
This is the core of Edmund the Learned Pig, a delightfully vaudevillian floorshow for the older children among us. Featuring an atmospheric accordion-heavy score by Martyn Jacques – founder of alternative cabaret troupe the Tiger Lillies – and a no-nonsense script by experienced children’s writer Mike Kenny, the show successfully evokes the feel of this shabby troupe of 19th century travelling players. More, it offers a sufficiently understandable morality tale which touches not just on the corrupting allure of success (especially in show business) but also the need for each of us to be genuinely comfortable in our own skins. There is, for example, real poignancy at the point when Edmund, while recognising that he’s always been different, momentarily insists that he doesn’t want to be different.
All this, of course, is somewhat ironic. The ensemble cast – Garry Robson as the Boss, Kinny Gardner as Mr Mesmo, Caroline Parker as The Missus, Annette Walker as Aeriella and Sally Clay as the “stage left” bearded lady providing most of the musical accompaniment – account themselves well in their clearly defined roles. Yet the heart of the show is, of course, a puppet. Thanks to Anthony Cairns’ superb manipulation of this suitably non-Disney-esque Edmund, however, there’s little doubt that the titular star becomes – at least for the duration of the show – a living, breathing character.
Originally supported through the Unlimited programme supporting new work by disabled artists, Edmund the Learned Pig comes with British Sign Language incorporated into the action, with both Parker and Gardner taking turns to translate what’s being said. Such commitment to accessibility is, of course, to be praised; that said, there’s at least one moment when what can only be described as gratuitous “audio description” of some silent action jars with the integrity of the theatrical world created before us.
Also, while the cast have all been involved with this show for several years, and so know it inside-out, there was a sense on the day of the review that they were still finding their way within yet another new theatre space; the choreography of movement felt a bit rough and ready during this early performance. Overall, though, this remains a stylish, warm-hearted show for all the family, told with real bravado.