In today’s Western society, when more kids have held an electronic mouse than seen a live one (much less savoured the hilarious perils of Mickey and his pals), it’s a great treat (more cheese, please!) to hole up at the Saunders household and learn that natural enemies can morph into best friends (and sometimes more …) once stereotypical assumptions are debunked and commonalities discovered.
Those at the opening performance and the legions of children who will see the new production as it tours will marvel at the flexible set, top-notch cast and director Pablo Felices-Luna’s delightful vision of Carrie Costello’s interactive adaptation of Sheree Fitch’s original book.
Special kudos must go to Michael Greves’ set and costume design (wherein lies the tail of this fascinating story). From the cleanly back-lit (Bradley A. Trenaman) Punch lrsquo;n’ Judy show through a well-stocked basement (only the actual size of the mouse hole gave any pause in this world of suspended disbelief where mice squeak, er, speak English—cross-reference below) and the magical solution to the unseen mom in the kitchen (precariously perched on a rickety stool), the play’s rich-storytelling episodes moved forward with nary a hitch.
As Sherry (happily short for the later rhyme-worthy Scheherazade—a subliminal story on its own), Sarah Henriques devours the mouse-as-heroine role with gusto, flair, and compelling energy. Clearly at ease with the younger set, she quickly brought the audience into the action as they enthusiastically contributed to the mouse-saving “Toys on; Toys off” diversions (your reporter opted to be an un-tuned automobile). As the older brother, Aaron Saunders, Conor Green made the transition from rodent remover to defender-of-the-fur in a convincing fashion even as he was buffeted by a menacing bundle of toilet paper and—inadvertently: back-story was everything—squished the living daylights out of Sherry’s father during the wedding on the hill (the crowd—in a manner not dissimilar to Victorian melodramas—dutifully cried “Oh no!“ to reinforce his tragic end). All of that set up the far-too-common reality that neither Aaron nor Sherry have fathers at home …
As good as her colleagues are, Jenn Buffett deserves at extra bit of Limburger for her masterful portrayal of Aaron’s baby sister, Dinah, as well as Mother Saunders and Mother Mouse (a slight timing problem with the unravelling of the mysterious charter parchment signed by Pierre Trurodent will vanish as the performances continue). The unseen matriarchs are voiced (employing a microphone for the whistle-while-I-work Mamma-with-wanted-whiskers; simultaneously practical and aurally clever) and—in the case of Dame Saunders—puppeteered.
For the most part, the younger set’s attention was held (waning occasionally when the storyline slipped into more tell than show). Judging from the Q&A following the “Dinnertime” closing, it became abundantly clear that both the little people and their minders not only had a great time, but the message of tolerance through knowledge and understanding got through. It’s the kind of play that needs to be heard and seen around the world. JWR