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Talented cast make the most of Wilde tales

Wilde Creatures, Warwick Arts Centre to December 30.

Are the people we look up to truly admirable? Do they deserve a statue in the town square?

Oscar Wilde didn't just write for adults, he also created characters that even the smallest children could identify with...and disapprove of.

Forget Dame Trott or the wicked stepmother currently appearing at venues all over the country. At the Arts Centre the award-winning theatre company, Tall Stories, use just a few wooden boxes and some musical instruments to draw young audiences into Wilde's lesser-known allegorical tales of The Devoted Friend and the The Nightingale And The Rose.

Quick as chameleons this hugely talented cast of four switch from pompous, to kind, from lovelorn, to mean....and the audience gets to vote as to whether they are suitable candidates for a statue in the square.

It's all on the worthy side, I have to say. But the action is right in your face and non-stop.

And instead of going on for endless "get your money's worth" hours - as some pantos can - this whole show lasts little more than an hour and ten minutes, and guarantees to have most children jumping up and down in their seats.

For many youngsters from a couple of Coventry primary schools it was their first theatrical experience, and they cottoned on straight away. One 11-year-old was in no doubt that the miller character, who believed he was such a good friend, was in fact anything but - and certainly did not deserve a statue in his honour.

Nor did the rest of the young audience who, when it came to the audience participation section of the show, certainly didn't vote for the miller or the mayor or the student - although they loved the flowers that gradually festooned the stage.

A class of six-year-olds were particularly excited - although one reminded his teacher: "They promised us packets of seeds on the way out, but they forgot!"

The good news is, the cast didn't forget, the seeds were being kept on the bus as a surprise on the way home.

Personally I would have preferred a bit more festive glitter on stage. But the morality of the message came through loud, clear and shining bright.

Tickets from:

Annette Kinsella writes: Wilde Tales draws on some of Oscar's least-known stories. emphasising the guttersnipe nature of humans, interspersed with a rare starlight of sincerity. The Devoted Friend tells the story of a wealthy miller who abuses the kind nature of his poor friend; The Infanta’s Birthday focuses on a selfish princess who breaks the heart of a wild boy after he falls in love with her; and The Nightingale and the Rose sees the eponymous nightingale pay the ultimate price for a highly-educated student who is ignorant of love.

Thanks to Wilde’s insights into human nature, the stories remain fresh. But credit also goes to Tall Stories. The set, made up of a packing case town, feels timeless, while the characters played by the four-strong cast are personable and engaging. All art is quite useless, said Oscar Wilde. However this entertaining and thought-provoking show asks us to question our actions and perhaps change for the better - which could be the greatest use of all.

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