Originally published on Reviews Hub
Reviewing shows whose target demographic is the very young is a tricky business. In most ways the rule book of what makes effective theatre; plotting, character, dialogue, needs to be completely thrown out of the window. The only gauge of judging whether a show truly works is to watch how the little mites react. In which case, Little Bulb’s The Night that Autumn Turned to Winter is an absolute charmer, its young audience completely wrapped up in its simplistic pop-up book appeal and then dazzled into enchanted silence by the winter moose who makes a late appearance to signify the last leaf falling from the tree and, as the title suggests, autumnal browns transforming into silvery winter.
What is so great about Little Bulb is that there is no feeling that the work they are creating for the youngest of audiences is any less important to them than their ‘adult’ work. The same artistic language is used for both, there are enough similarities between this work and their recent version of Orpheus that played on the main house stage to identify it as the same company. Whereas that show was scuppered by being plonked on the main house stage when it needed a more intimate cabaret venue, the Old Vic studio is a much more loving venue for this small gem.
Little Bulb basks in their DIY aesthetic and sophisticated musical harmonies. Both are used to fine effect here in Alex Scott’s tidy production; a number of animals are introduced simply, getting a song or introductory speech to give them clear definition. Frogs, flies, badgers and a host of others are presented and then move on, none overstaying their welcome, always a new animal ready to take the interest. The audience’s personal favourites though are the hedgehogs, it’s worth the price of admission alone to see how the company decides to present them.
Dominic Conway and Miriam Gould are both strong and engaging performers but it is Clare Beresford who really catches the eye. There is something of Julie Walters’ Mrs Overall about her narrator and she has a real sharp comic talent that suggests she may be a name to watch out for moving forward.
The piece plays out with episodic snapshots rather than a cohesive narrative and the company seems much more interested in portraying the autumnal world than winter. The last moments, though, see the magic of theatre work its wonders as the young get caught up in wonder and provide proof that there is more magic in winter than simply a man in red riding his reindeer through the skies.