The ensemble cast of three open and close The Boy Who Cried Wolf with the ‘clickety click’ of their knitting needles, and the story gradually weaves itself into being, framed by these little poetic and visual moments.
Taking this small rural family of mother, son and grandfather as a starting point, some gentle ideas of the son’s frustration with his small-scale existence, and the notions of family duty, aging and inheritance are introduced.
The boy, Silas, would rather be an astronaut than a shepherd, and most of the audience probably wish that he would leave the valley and seek his fortune; but family and tradition appear to win out in the end. The fable and message about being truthful are delivered, albeit gently – Silas does learn his lesson, but the end is a party and celebration – and not a sheep is harmed.
That said, in a play aimed at children from three onwards, the morality was never going to be all that heavy handed. The overriding impression is of energy and continuity: there is hardly a pause as one scene moves into the next, and the shifts, beautifully choreographed whether through music or props, manage to give an amazing sense of physical space and scale. A highlight perhaps is Silas climbing the mountain with the village far below him, in the shape of the little glowing houses.
The production makes lovely use of the homespun-feeling set, with lovely little touches such as the white bunting representing icicles, and the snowy landscape turning into Silas and his grandfather’s bedcovers. The knitted, woolly theme is everywhere, from the marvellous sheep hats to Silas’s prize winning jumper – the knitters in the props team definitely deserve special mention!
Energy is also the defining word for the cast, who indefatigably – and even with palpable joy – dance, run, spin, ‘baa’ and stalk their way through the play. The three actors function very well as a team, whether in their musical performances – which include some engaging pieces for guitar and accordion and some great folky three-part harmonies – or in their humour and interactions.
The cast’s charisma and liveliness carry us effortlessly with them: the delightful dance piece at the end had the audience spontaneously clapping along and there was a general buzz of enthusiasm in the theatre, with children ‘clickety-click’ing along with the knitting.
Engagement with the audience was delightful both before and after the performance, with cast members sitting – knitting, of course – beside audience members and looking for wolf tracks around our feet, and then afterwards handing out bookmarks and colouring sheets to children on the door. It was a performance characterised by generosity and energy, and let’s hope winter is to be just as woolly, snuggly, snowy and sparkly.
Theatre review originally published on DigYorkshire in October 2013.