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May 7, 2017
Skellig, Criterion Theatre, Earlsdon, until May 13.
Earlsdon moves to Tyneside for this adaptation of David Almond’s novel, written for children yet engagingly thought-provoking for adults.
The setting is a somewhat dilapidated house in or around Newcastle. We know that because of the accents – a pleasantly lilting Geordie.
What’s more, Dad is sporting a black and white striped football shirt and reading the back page of the Newcastle Chronicle while washing down his Chinese take-away with Newcastle Brown Ale.
In the rare moments, that is, when he’s not striving to transform the tip that he and Mum
have just purchased into a suburban palace.
More realistically, he wants to make it a safe haven for the growing family. His son Michael, the central character, is to have a baby sister. Unfortunately, she arrives somewhat earlier than expected and her consequent fragile state of health is at
the heart of a play that touches on profound issues without detracting from the pace of an absorbing story.
The garage adjoining the house makes my shed seem almost orderly by comparison. Amid the stinking piles of rubbish in there, Michael makes a shocking discovery.
What appears at first to be an old man is squatting among the bags and boxes. Is he the former ageing resident who allowed this place to go to rack and ruin?
Under his coat are strangely protruding shoulder blades. Are they wings? Is this some strange kind of angel? The angel of death, perhaps, coming for his baby sister?
Despite his forebodings, Michael befriends the creaking Skellig, bringing aspirin for his aching bones, the remains of Chinese take-aways and bottles of brown ale.
Skellig is transformed as this entrancing tale goes on.
Helped by Emma Withers’ evocative and adaptive set, director Nicol Cortese brings the best out of a cast. As Michael, Harry Holles engagingly captures the awkwardness of a sensitive lad on the cusp of adolescence. His school-mates, played by Reuben O’Connell and James Smith, are equally impressive. So too is Georgia Kelly, the girl next door, who further fires Michael’s already fevered imagination with her love of birds and the works of William Blake.
Pete Gillam and Lucy Hayton subtly portray the strains of parents trying to hold it together in a shambolic house with a baby in a critical condition and a son they love deeply.
This is a play for all ages performed by a cast of all ages. It is magical, enchanting and touching. Deeply so at times.
What more could you want from a night at the theatre?
The theatre advises that this production is suitable for children of age 10 and above, or younger at the parents' discretion.
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