When Russell Hoban wrote young adult’s fantasy novel Soonchild, many remarked how it was probably better suited to a slightly younger audience. This Red Earth Theatre adaptation of the novel seems to both agree and disagree with this, as the themes explored in the story’s narrative retain their maturity and, yet, are presented in a way that many young audiences can understand.

Soonchild captures the magic of an arctic community, but also the perils that life brings. Laura McEwen’s design adds to this atmosphere with a simple, yet bold, geometric set illuminated blue as if reflecting the sky on the never ending snow and ice.

Through the mediums of song, folk music, physical theatre, puppetry, British Sign Language (BSL) and projection, the audience is taken on a breathtaking journey to reunite man with the World Songs. These World Songs represent the beauty of the earth. 

Our earth, including the World Songs, are being ripped apart and gobbled up by a menacing creature, which is revealed to be humanity by the end of the show. John, a shaman in a small village, goes on a quest to recover the World Songs for his daughter, Soonchild, who is yet to be born and refuses to enter the world without hearing them.

Craig Painting took on the role of John, transforming his character from one of self-doubt into a brave, confident hero. Painting creates an incredible connection with the audience, keeping them intently engaged and thoroughly entertained throughout.

John is helped and hindered by all sorts of strange creatures, incarnations and spirits along the way. One helper being his fun-loving, mischievous dead grandmother. Matilda Bott gets plenty of laughs from the audience in this role, which she performs with incredible zeal. Bott has a clear talent for characterisation, voice work and comedy - particularly essential for family productions.

Another friend to John is the menacing ice bear. Brandon Plummer operates this wearable puppet, which although not as comprehensive, is reminiscent of the puppets used in War Horse. Plummer had clearly done plenty of research into the head movement and sounds of polar bears, allowing the audience to effectively imagine puppet and puppeteer as one and the same entity. 

Both Bott and Plummer take on many different roles throughout Soonchild, seamlessly switching between each. Plummer is also cast as John’s wife, after winning a game of rock-paper-scissors against Bott for the part. The gender fluidity of this production is yet another example of its excellence; after all, children are the most ready to embrace anyone’s individuality.

Even if you don’t understand it, BSL is such an integral part of this production that it’s incorporated into all choreography and adds a visual treat for all, as well as the obvious practical element for family members with hearing disabilities. 

The original music from folk group Threaded was yet another highlight of this production. Their instrumentals and songs were beautifully mesmerising, fitting in perfectly with the tone of the action on stage. Threaded also formed another essential part of the narrative and physical performance on stage. You wouldn’t believe that this was their debut appearance in theatre as performers and composers, as they were simply astounding.

This charming, unique, intricate play is a wonderfully entertaining representation of the need to protect the beauty of our planet for future generations. Soonchild is an inspiration to adults and children alike: a must-see for families.

You can catch Soonchild in two performances on Saturday 5 October - a matinee and an evening performance.

 

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Lauren Cole