views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Girl and the Box
Etcetera Theatre
10th August 2016

★★★★☆

Publicity photograph for The Girl and the Box

Photography © Shay Rowan

Once upon a time, there was a company called Fabletop Theatre and they wanted to put on a very special show. The Girl and the Box is a funny and yet poignant tale of a young girl (Jess Neale) trying to cope with her overwhelming grief by burying all of her negative emotions rather than confronting them head on. In a somewhat obvious metaphor, she takes all of her sadness, fear and anger and locks them away in a box. However, the young girl quickly regrets this decision and embarks on a quest to get those feelings back. Watched by a sympathetic but largely unhelpful narrator (Jack Carmichael), along the way she encounters a mysterious stranger (Hannah Abbott) and a variety of magical creatures (Jesselyn Verity, Isobel Pilkington and Aaron Baker).

Dancing around in generic blue boiler suits, the ensemble embody a real sense of whimsy and playfulness. Whilst the girl and the narrator have to be quite distinct characters, the rest of the cast share all the other roles fluidly, sometimes even playing the same character at the same time. This is a move that demonstrates how well they all work together, with the timing here absolutely crucial. There's a beautiful physicality to The Girl and the Box, with the stage essentially becoming the company's playground for the hour. Whilst it does feel like a devised piece, it hangs together nicely and the pacing works well at all times.

Props are pegged to a washing line in the background in a decision that is not only practical but charming, with the cast lifting individual items off and on the line as they tell the story. A hat and coat become a man, with the ensemble manipulating the items of clothing as a full body puppet, somehow managing to make the apparel feel human, and with the lack of identifiable features to the invisible man giving him a further air of intrigue. The use of ribbons is simple but highly evocative, with a great deal of care evident in all the costume and prop choices.

Neale's lovely expressiveness is perhaps the single biggest driving factor of this play's success, with her very likeable portrayal of the hero what keeps us drawn into this captivating tale. We sympathise immediately with her desire to rediscover her identity and put things right. It may be the sort of simple message that you find in a childhood fable and yet that doesn't make it unsophisticated. Simple musical accompaniment from Carmichael and Baker on guitar and Verity on xylophone adds to the fairytale feel, supported by mostly smooth vocals from Abbott.

The Girl and the Box is a wonderfully whimsical and childlike production created by a talented group of individuals that will appeal to your inner child. Having already been staged in the larger Blue Elephant Theatre, it's a piece that lends itself well to touring, with the design adaptable to different spaces. Let's hope there's another run for The Girl and the Box before the story finally ends and they all live happily ever after.

The Girl and the Box opened on 10th August and runs until 14th August 2016 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)



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