If there was ever proof that children’s theatre does not have to be trifling, this is it: and it all came down to a woolly penis.
Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytales were given a modern reworking, all told within the framework of the titular tale – a homeless girl who at Christmas trades her precious matchsticks for a series of stories: Thumbelina, The Emperor’s New Clothes and The Princess and the Pea.
The poverty of 19th century Denmark translated with uncomfortable ease into the urban decay of modern street life.
Every detail, down to the shivering puppet depicting the eponymous character, screamed out: ‘it might be based on a fairytale, but this happens’. In fact, it set up an ending so bleak it was one Kate Bush warble away from a NSPCC advert. (They weren’t lying when they suffixed the play’s name with ‘and other happier tales’).
But there was also much fun to be had in the meantime for all ages. As the master storyteller, Niall Ashdown’s dry quips gave the parents a chuckle while the children laughed at the silly dancing.
The production was also not afraid to get political. Jabs were taken at Donald Trump, ‘the twit of Twitter’. Thumbelina was somehow turned into an allegory of immigration and human trafficking. The Princess and the Pea was rebooted with a feminist ending.
In fact the show was not afraid full stop, particularly when Ashdown as the emperor wore a nude onesie adorned with knitted genitals and body hair.
I did not know where to look, but the children were screaming with laughter.
It underlined the play’s core values – that children can handle the truth, no matter how controversial or difficult.
Sometimes the message became too preachy for me, but love it or hate it, it was certainly better than watching Peppa Pig Live.
Until February 10.