Mandy Holliday’s new adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Tinderbox is perfect for young pre-school children, with a simple plot and easy-to-follow dialogue. The story follows Brian the Brave, a poor soldier who finds a magic tinderbox and sets out to marry a princess, with a few magic dogs, a witch, and an evil mother thrown in for good measure. The audience is asked to participate throughout the show, which borders on a pantomime, helping children remain actively engaged with the play. The actors are good improvisers and play off the audience well – not always an easy task when there are toddlers involved.
Since the Charing Cross Theatre is a puppet theatre, the production utilises simple special effects and puppets to encourage children to use their imagination; the costume is equally simple, but effective in conveying a sense of character. The stage is made up of several large books which double as other set pieces: for example, a hotel, a tree, or the princess’ tower. This versatility is fun, and the presence of the books also serves to remind us of the play’s most popular rendering, as a written fairy tale.
This production is staged as a musical, with lyrics by Holliday but music drawn from a variety of classical sources, including Tchaikovsky’s ballets and Bizet’s Carmen. This is effective, providing something familiar and stimulating for the adults in the audience, while making such pieces accessible to young children who may be hearing them for the first time. All four actors are accomplished singers, and bring something special to their roles.