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Review of Polka Theatre’s The Borrowers

The Borrowers Polka Theatre: Will Howard, Emma Keele, Troy Glasgow - Credit Robert Workman
The Borrowers Polka Theatre: Will Howard, Emma Keele, Troy Glasgow – Photo credit Robert Workman

A visit to Polka is always a must-do event in the theatrical calendar so that one can experience high-quality drama for young people in welcoming surroundings with a wonderfully vibrant and inclusive atmosphere.

The Borrowers, a play, based on Mary Norton’s 1952 classic, by Charles Way, the doyen of drama for young people, fulfilled all expectations, entertaining the young audience with expert storytelling, exciting and clever design and a troupe of seasoned actors who give their all in a rollicking, rough-and- tumble, laugh-a- minute, adventure played with panache and complete commitment to the genre.

Charlotte Dubery – fresh from her Theatre Ad Infinitum exploits, including in the outstanding Light – leads the team with an accomplished and highly effective portrayal of Arrietty, a miniature under-floor-boards “Borrower” who befriends The (full-size) Boy – played with cute affection by Troy Glasgow a guest in the rambling old house which is full of nooks and crannies and mouse holes and a transformable clock for easy access and egress to the under-floor world. The main house is ruled with a rod of iron (and a decanter of sherry) by Mrs Driver whose withering stare and no-nonsense approach is captured with alarming ferocity by Emma Keele. As she stomped down the steps in the auditorium past my end-of- row seat I hunkered down as far as possible and didn’t dare move a muscle in fear of her scolding tongue and scathing approbation: the kids loved her!

Arrietty’s mother, Homily, is all pouty disapproval and reproachful raised-eyebrow – a great comedy turn by Amanda Gordon whose timing is impeccable. Phil Yarrow as Dad Borrower Pod is a lovely foil to both Arrietty and Homily and has much jocular interaction with multi-tasking Will Howard who plays Spiller and other characters: Howard’s laconic innocence is a joy to behold.

Lee Lyford’s direction is spot-on in terms of pace, understanding and mini-people nous aided and abetted by Verity Quinn’s magical design which owe’s much to Dan Saggars’s superbly atmospheric lighting. There’s some cool music by Paul Dodgson and when presenting two different sizes of people Jimmy Grimes’s puppetry is always going to be an essential part of the creative process.

Way’s adaptation started life – commissioned by Polka – seventeen years ago – I was fortunate enough to have seen another production of it at the Library Theatre, Manchester. This current production shows that not only Mary Norton’s original story but also Way’s knowing and heart-warming chronicling of it, are timeless, relevant and appreciated by each new generation of children. And by the way – they get irony: Glasgow turns up at the end as Eggletina – Arrietty’s (female) cousin. He’s wearing a very becoming platinum wig and a skirt. The guffaws of laughter from the young audience showed not only that they knew it was the same actor but fully appreciated the humorous theatrical convention.

Being part of this audience of principally, children – some very young – who sit with rapt attention throughout – no constant checking of smartphones here – is an absolute joy and further evidence that Polka really is where theatre begins and, I would suggest, continues throughout the lives of all those it touches.

5 Star Rating

Review by Peter Yates

The Borrowers
An extraordinary adventure of epic proportions
Written by Mary Norton and adapted for the stage by Charles Way
Friday 16 June – Sunday 20 August 2017-06-01
Press performance: Saturday 24 June, 2.30pm, Polka Theatre, Wimbledon
The timeless classic bursts onto Polka’s Main Stage this summer with dazzling puppetry, original music, stunning design and plenty of suspense.

Adapted from the classic book by Mary Norton, first published in 1952, Polka’s thrilling new production is adapted by award-winning playwright Charles Way and brought to life on stage by Director Lee Lyford (The Snow Queen, Bristol Old Vic 2016) and designer Verity Quinn, who has recently designed both Under the Rainbow and Beasty Baby at Polka Theatre.

Arrietty has lived her whole life deep beneath the floorboards, dreaming of the great outdoors. When her father Pod finally brings her upstairs to learn the tricks of borrowing, Arrietty meets a human boy. But their friendship risks everything and the ‘human beans’ soon discover the borrowers’ secret world… it’s time to escape!

Join us for a fantastical adventure as the heroic Arrietty and her family embark on an action-packed journey to find somewhere new to call home.

Company Information:
Author Mary Norton
Adapted for the stage by Charles Way
Director Lee Lyford
Designer Verity Quinn
Lighting Designer Dan Saggars
Sound Designer Paul Didgson
Puppetry Designer Jimmy Grimes
Cast Charlotte Dubery, Amanda Gordon, Phil Yarrow, Emma Keele, Will Howard, Troy Glasgow

Listings Information:
Fri 16th June – Sunday 20th August
Polka Theatre


  • Peter Yates

    Peter has a long involvement in the theatrical world as playwright, producer, director and designer. His theatre company Random Cactus has taken many shows to the Edinburgh Fringe, the London Fringe and elsewhere and he has been associated with the Wireless Theatre Company since its inception where his short play Lie Detector can be heard: Wireless Theatre Company.

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