Fairies and Dragons of the Desolate Plain Reviews

Fairies and Dragons of the Desolate Plain reviews

BroadwayBaby ****

Caught between the youthful conviction that just because you can’t see something it doesn’t mean it isn’t real and a growing realisation that “nothing’s easy to understand anymore”, the cast of this this beautiful show present a story that is far more complex than might initially be assumed.

Newbury Youth Theatre return to the Fringe with Tony Trigwell-Jones’ latest play. Set against (and amidst) the First World War, it follows Anna and Mabel Lawrenson, sisters who want to change the world by proving that fairies exist. The ‘Desolate Plain’ of the title is the battlefield in France - which they know because of the letters written to them by their soldier father, who explains the War to them in terms of a desperate struggle between fairies, ogres, sprites and a ‘Loathsome Worm’.

The show’s large young cast are a force to be reckoned with as they move through the story, which jumps between an English train station, French trenches and a mystical labyrinth with grace and polish. The best bits in the show involve how they transform the stage into a variety of settings, using just wooden benches and their bodies, enhanced with effective choreography. This is especially potent in a haunting puppetry sequence that involves the entire cast and a torch to wonderful effect.

Clare Woodage creates an endearingly Lucy Pevensie-esque heroine in her portrayal of Mabel and Alex Storey is fantastic as the fairy Martagon. The layered form of the play gives it an unexpectedly complex message that adults as well as children will find touching, although I would suggest that the age suitability is is geared more towards that of a 10-12 year old than that of an 8 year old as stated on the website. A couple of musical numbers are less than pitch-perfect but the show’s other strengths make up for this.

Fairies and Dragons of the Desolate Plain is an emotive and nostalgic play that showcases some wonderful young talent and some very creative stagecraft. Definitely worth a visit. Iona Gaskell

Newbury Weekly News

THIS year Newbury Youth Theatre have departed from their more usual format of working up a devised production for the Edinburgh Fringe, instead performing a new play written by their co-director Tony Trigwell-Jones.

The cast, aged 14 to 17, relished their most challenging production yet, set during the First World War. The beautifully-written and thoughtprovoking script tackles major themes with humour and poignancy, in a production rich with magical and supernatural allusion. The idea stems from the ‘Cottingley Fairies’, fake black-and-white photographs of fairies produced by two Edwardian girls, which fooled many, Conan Doyle among them.

Directed by Tony and Amy Trigwell- Jones, and produced by Robin Strapp, the play centres on letters written home from the Western Front by Captain Peter Lawrenson to his daughters, Mabel and Anna. Protecting them from the reality of the slaughter, he talks of the war as battles fought between ogres, elves and sprites, likening the building of trenches to a worm writhing and tunnelling its way through the earth, and the German enemy to a baleful dragon. The war is made sense of in magical terms, the carnage tamed and neutralised.

The play shifts through time and place, from the Great War battlefields to war-time London. On a train journey, the sisters debate with members of the Ealing Youth Choir how to stop the war. With hopeful innocence, the youngsters believe that good will prevail over evil, but begin to realise that adults and governments are not always right.  Woven into the production are plaintive songs sung to flute accompaniment: There Used to be Fairies in Germany, and the evocative Great War popular song There ’s a Long, Long Trail A- Winding . There’s very effective use of puppetry and the shadow projections of childhood, and telling physicality, the cast conjuring a 350-year-old ash tree with their bodies and benches: nature’s permanent witness amid the chaos of war.

We are invited to believe in another realm, a fairy world, to which Mabel is carried off in search of her captured father: “Trust me, I’m a fairy,” her abductor says. In a clever court scene, the youngsters debate the certainties of science against a nebulous spirit world. Theatrically, the fairy world and the real world work in parallel, throwing up binary oppositions: consciousness and the subconscious, faith and rationality, fate and self determination.The play considers motivations for war, the meaning of patriotism, how war narratives are politically constructed, and how far populations question their leaders: issues, post-Chilcot, never more pertinent. Does Mabel sacrifice herself to an existence in an alternative, magical world with no linear timescale to allow her father his freedom, or does she die in a London bombing raid?

Does Capt Lawrenson return home to Anna, or does she only will it? Ultimately, do we only see what we want to see? LIN WILKINSON