The Terrible Infants is an inventive, whimsical multi-award winning theatrical spectacle of short stories told through acting, highly stylised puppetry and live music. Think a mixture of Hans Christian Andersen, Grimms Brothers, Roald Dahl and Tim Burton.
The Terrible Infants is based on a series of short stories by Oliver Lansley and Sam Wyer. The stage version is the mastermind of Les Infants Terribles company, who have created the critically acclaimed and hugely popular Alice’s Adventures Underground. Lansley is founder and Artistic Director of Les Enfantes Terribles, writer of The Terrible Infants, and co-directs and acts in this production. James Seager also co-directs and produces this show, which he previously produced in 2009. The Terrible Infants premiered 10 years ago in London and has gone on to tour the globe. This is the first production in five years and also the first long running production in London.
Structurally, it is like that of a travelling band of players telling stories who joke and have fun with each other. The stories overlap and vie for our attention, before we circle back to some of the stories. Meet Tilly, a young girl who tends to tell tall tales; Tumb who is so hungry he eats his mum; Finbar who wishes to be a fish; Mingus who refuses to wash, and Little Linena, a material girl. There is even some narration by Judy Dench as the story of Beatrice, a girl who constantly talks, is enacted on stage. Each story has a very clear moral (or three), and laughter abounded aplenty. Thingummyboy, a boy who is forgotten, is the saddest story on offer, and perhaps tugs at our emotions as we can all relate to feeling unnoticed at some point.
The five cast members are amazingly versatile. All leapt about on stage one minute, performed refined puppetry the next and played musical instruments the next. Exaggerated movements, mime, direct address, repetition, alliteration, onomatopoeia, rhyme, song and a host of other techniques are all used effectively. Different forms of puppetry from shadow puppets to marionettes to large heads are also used terrifically.
Stage design by Samuel Wyer creates the perfect atmosphere for the tales: a moveable side-show cart, a band section and a clutter of objects which turn out to be props or hiding places for props including giant pink umbrellas, bins, bees, bear and rope. A highlight was an underwater sequence towards the end of the first half. The ragamuffin, gothic costumes and vivid white face-paint also add to the flavour of each story. The shabby, chic but charming Wilton Music Hall was a perfect venue for the production.
Composed by Tomas Gisby and Neil Townsend, the music was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the production. Keyboard, violin, banjo, guitar, flute, saxophone, brass and drums all featured. Pizzicato and arco techniques were used to great effect. Loud, upbeat but also sorrowful at points the music was superb throughout. Rebecca Bainbridge and Christo Squier were outstanding as both actors and musicians.
Run time is approximately 1 hour 35 minutes including an interval. After interval, there seemed to be a bit of a lag but it soon picked up the jovial pace again.
I would highly recommend seeing this imaginative and enchanting musical-puppetry spectacle. Terribly terrific. Suitable for older children and adults alike.
Wilton’s Music Hall
1 Graces Alley
Written by Caitlin Neal