balletLORENT made a long overdue return to the Festival Theatre Edinburgh tonight with The Lost Happy Endings. This production is a specially written for dance adaptation by author Carol Ann Duffy of her popular 2006 children’s book of the same name.
The title of this production is perhaps both prophetic and perfect for a dance company, as like many other dance (and music/theatre/arts) companies across the world, the last 18 months have been difficult times with tours cancelled and an uncertain future ahead. Thankfully balletLORENT have survived the storm and are back on stage where they belong, even if this production was still under strict social distancing measures at the theatre.
On paper, this production has everything, a magical story of what happens if Jub, the person responsible for collecting all the happy endings to stories at the end of the day, is unable to do her job, narration voice-over by Joanna Lumley, interesting stage, costume, and lighting design, and of course the talents of the choreographers and dancers of balletLORENT. Something is not right though, something is not doing what I love from this company so much, that ability to interweave story and dance and just when you think you have everything figured out to then take an unexpected twist to everything.
I don’t know what exactly is not working here for me, but perhaps the biggest problem is me, myself, I. This production is essentially a children’s fairy story and I am trying to watch that magical world that a child can imagine from anything, (let alone a theatre stage) through the jaded eyes of an adult who knows that not every story has a happy ending rather than a child who perhaps still believes that every story will have a happy ending.
The very format of this production is also one that I think requires a lot of children in the audience for maybe a matinee performance rather than an evening one, and also the narration format invites a lot more closeness to the story than any large theatre stage can give; this is a production and a story to be told close up and personal.
Perhaps being a more cynical adult (let’s hope young children have not yet reached that point in life), I actually enjoyed the new “not happy” endings to all of my favourite fairy stories of my childhood better than the originals. I also found myself emphasising very much with the witch in this story, who for some reason had a much better defined and to me far more interesting personal history than our principal character Jub. This allowed our witch (Gwen Berwick) to steal every scene that she was in over Jub (Benedicta Valentina Mamuini), and that is no reflection on the talents of either performer. Witches always are scene stealers, but why do they nearly always have to be dressed in black?
I have to admit that one scene did bother me here, and that was the use of plastic sheeting to create the effects when Jub is captured. Not only do we have more than enough problems with plastic in this world, but is wrapping someone in plastic a good idea to present to an audience that could have many children in it? Could a fine muslin or similar fabric not have achieved the same desired visual effects?
There is of course a solution to the problem of The Lost Happy Endings, and how beginning and end affect the readers of the stories is interestingly told to us by the use of the full night moon in the sky as a projection screen.
Interesting music too for this production, but for some reason I was expecting our witch to remember dancing to something like Abba’s Dancing Queen.
Oddly, whilst watching this production I kept seeing the possibilities of this story being re-told for adults, as its potential to weave a fairy story into the lives and emotions of adult relationships is endless. We may not all get the happy endings that we want, but we all still hope for them.
Despite my thoughts on this production, balletLORENT still remains one of my favourite dance/performance companies, so if there are still tickets available for tomorrow night’s performance, give this show a chance.
Review by Tom King (c) 2021
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