Lancaster’s Dukes Theatre has a growing reputation for children’s theatre that was this year cemented when it won the UK Theatre Award for best production for children and young people for its summer walkabout production of The Hobbit, hosted in Williamson Park. Each Christmas its original productions move suitably indoors and are performed in the round.
The Dukes doesn’t force the issue of Christmas, but there is a thoroughly festive feel to visiting the theatre when Lancaster’s pretty cobbled streets are lined with twinkling lights and children are bundled up and shepherded indoors for their annual theatre experience.
This year they were there to see Pinocchio, adapted by Christopher William Hill. It’s a story perhaps not as well known to them as Beauty and the Beast, last year’s production, but it retains the small audience’s attention. The shrewdly balanced mix of high jinx and shadowy nuance has children enrapt. And this is really the strength of the Dukes’ productions – there’s no need for glitter cannons and fat men in drag to keep younger audience members entertained. Nor do parents get bored – acting, set and costume design and lighting are all of a high professional standard. This is truly family theatre.
The incorporation of puppetry into the show was executed cleverly by the cast and the puppets themselves were skilfully made by Mark Hornsey of Babbling Vagabonds Storytelling Theatre. Beginning by operating a boy-sized wooden puppet, attached to his feet and hands, Lucas Button then became the wooden boy by discarding the puppet and emulating its movements, before eventually turning into a real boy once again – with a short stint as a donkey in between. The physical demands of such acting were clear in the visible perspiration, but Button was convincing throughout and a strong supporting cast – each member taking on at least two roles without causing confusion – undoubtedly made his task easier.