The masterful puppeteers at Tall Stories triumph again with their latest Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler adaptation, The Smeds and The Smoos, which is touring England and Wales until April. Squarely aimed at the Early Years and Infants end of the market, this show’s production values – from lighting to incredibly clever modular set design to, of course, great puppets – make this non-tragic re-telling of Romeo and Juliet (in outer space) a visual feast for the family.
The Smeds and the Smoos are sworn enemies on a planet outside our solar system. No one quite knows why but they are deeply suspicious of one another… until Janet (Althea Burey) falls in love with Bill (Dan Armstrong). Whilst the elders are bickering, the young lovers elope, possibly to another planet. With plenty of catchy tunes and very adroit prop transformation, we are taken on an intergalactic quest as Grandpa Smed (Tim Hibberd) and Grandmother Smoo (Angela Laverick) try to find these star-crossing lovers. Along the way, the feuding clans are forced to work together towards their common goal and, confined in their spaceship, discover one another’s (alien?) humanity: familiarity breeds tolerance and appreciation. It’s a warm message for our divided times with its plot lifted straight from Shakespeare (my 9-year-old co-critic spotted it before I did) but certainly does not end in a double suicide. Instead, we are all safely returned to a new era of harmony and packed off with a catchy curtain anthem.
With a hard-working cast of four (plus the various puppet creatures encountered), this production is kinetic and full of vibrant visual stimulation for kids. There is a moderate degree of audience warm-up and comedy, panto-style, but mostly it’s a fourth-wall telling that closely held the attention of my young companions ranging from ages three to ten. The three-year-old gave it a full-throated 5 stars and the older kids praised it with a strong 4-star endorsement and imagined their younger selves would have loved it up to the age of about six.
As for the grown-ups, I was impressed and pleasantly transported by the high-quality lighting (by Peter Harrison) and the clever design (Barney George). As with most Tall Stories productions, I ended up with an earworm thanks to the catchiness of the ditties, even if not Minchin-level (Matilda) memorable. My only note, as a parent, is that right at the opening there is a crying baby sound effect that is actually too realistic and too loud. Racing to the theatre with a gaggle of children and settling in to relax for a few minutes, I found myself disquieted by that all-too-familiar sound because, as a parent surrounded by children, I was convinced it might be one of mine or an infant nearby – I think this is the trigger warning for the nappy valley set! I wonder if the producers might want to tone it down a smidge, not least because it doesn’t sit entirely with the jollier mood of the rest of the piece.
Fanciful and pleasing puppets, toe-tapping tunes and a warm-hearted story of tolerance for the whole family, The Smeds and The Smoos is a lovely introduction to the theatre or an extension of the experience for your little ones, either over the school holidays or as a weekend outing.
Review by Mary Beer
Soar into space to a far-off planet
With a Smoo named Bill and a Smed named Janet
The Smeds (who are red) never mix with the Smoos (who are blue). They’re suspicious of each other and they just don’t get on.
So when a young Smed and Smoo fall in love, their families are not happy. How will peace be restored? Will true love conquer all?
brand new production
The Smeds and the Smoos
based on the book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
artsdepot, 5 Nether Street, London N12 0GA