Gentle comedy, physical theatre and even a little bit of a French language lesson are on offer in Smash Productions’ show The Maroon Balloon at the Pleasance Courtyard.
The play, based on a 1956 film by Albert Lamorisse, depicts the adventures of a young boy and his red balloon during one day in his home-town of Paris. The story is created on a black box set using a range of simple props by the cast of three, who take it in turns to assume the character of the boy himself, and take on the roles of the range of people he meets. The performers, Millie Brady, Sabrina Bussandri and Lily Parham (who together also devised the production) manage this expertly, shifting effortlessly and convincingly between characters as diverse as the grumpy grannies, the hungry teacher, and the pastry-seller, and delighting the audience as they do so. They convey beautifully the wide-eyed wonder and joy of the boy with his simple balloon, and the innocence of his childish view of the city and its inhabitants. There’s lovely comedy in the depiction of these characters, with younger audience members in particular frequently reduced to giggles.
If there is a caveat, it lies in the very simplicity and innocence which is the essence of this production. The play is character rather than plot-driven, and older children who crave more action might find it slow. Our audience, which consisted largely of children of around nine and below, were absolutely engaged, however. This is family entertainment, which will appeal to grandparents and young children equally. It is designed to stimulate the imaginations of its audience, and this is does with great commitment, charm and success.
The production makes good use of colour (we especially liked the cast’s bright trainers) and eye-catching props such as an accordion. Both sound-effects and music are used to good purpose. Both I and my nine year old companion felt sound and especially lighting could have been exploited more, though.
This is a fine production, which will stand up alongside the best children’s theatre on offer, and an accomplished performance by its cast, who all engage very well with the young audience members. It returns us safely home, as it promised to do, with a sense of magic.