Creating a piece of theatre for children can be more difficult than creating a piece for adults. Children are unrelenting critics. If they are unimpressed, they will say so with alarming honesty. Creating a show about monsters therefore must have been an almighty challenge. As a piece of theatre with no hope of editing or using cinematic techniques, these monsters had a lot to live up to.
Mark Williams’ script is a very simple narrative with a moralistic message of how to fight the monsters within at its core. This gives the script an almost parabolic feel, but it is not so overt thanks to his convincing emulation of the child’s voice. Elfi has been through a lot. Motherless, her father has moved in with her coffee-breath stepmother and, as if that isn’t bad enough, she’s brought her whiny, mummy’s boy Ed along with her too. Now Elfi must learn to share her home, much to her annoyance.
Llinos Mai is a triumph as Elfi. Delivering her lines with the perfect pompousness of a pre-teenage girl, Llinos really brings the comedy to the piece. In fact, her character carries the whole production. Ed, a geeky bookworm, is terrified of getting rejected at his new school; a fear which is surely a very common, plausible fear of a twelve year old boy.
One day Elfi finds a mysterious book at a rubbish dump which transpires to be a guide to a group of beasts threatening to destroy their town. Thus begins a quest to capture the monsters, and on their way, they discover more about themselves too.
The whole plot has a very Phillip Pullman feel to it, an ordinary town affected by a world of fantasy. The set is meant to transport us straight to a dark, gritty world where monsters are lurking in the shadows. The bare stage doesn’t achieve this. It is so simple, that when the actors are running from place to place, it’s very difficult to distinguish the location of the new scene. The production needed more. More costumes, more use of graphics, more lighting; anything that made the actors more believable as monsters. The creatures were in fact played by other members of the cast, dressed in black, or controlling a large puppet-like contraption made of rubbish. This contraption was the only actual manifestation of a monster. Whilst there was no question of how good the actors’ performances were, it wasn’t enough.
Understandably there must always be that question of how far to push something like monsters for a young, more sensitive audience, but the production didn’t really seem to push itself at all. More of a daring approach would not have gone amiss. It did pull the production down a notch, as the script was spot on in terms of plot and characters. It just needed more production to live up to its expectations.
A very well-written play with a great lead performance from Llinos Mai, but more was needed from the terrifying beasts that threatened to engulf the town.