REVIEW: Tailor of Gloucester

11
December
2019

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Tailor

 



REVIEW The Tailor of Gloucester, Salberg

Helena Gomm says this one’s “a real treat!”

Images: Nick Spratling

This delightful new show, which runs until December 28th, is based on Beatrix Potter’s seasonal story The Tailor of Gloucester, in which a cash-strapped tailor falls ill and seems unlikely to complete the mayor’s new coat in time for Christmas Day.

Tailor

To make matters worse, there isn’t enough of the cherry-coloured twist for the buttonholes, which the mayor has specifically requested. Sent out into the snow to buy more twist, the tailor’s grumpy cat, Simpkin, reports that the shop has sold out. By then, the tailor is too ill to do anything but sleep.

To the rescue come a pair of mice, saved by the tailor from Simpkin’s clutches. The grateful mice, whom Simpkin had imprisoned under the teacups ready to eat later, sew the garment with stitches so tiny that the ageing and arthritic tailor can only marvel at their skill.

The only thing missing is the last bit of cherry-coloured twist required to finish off the buttonholes. Simpkin is eventually shamed into revealing that he succeeded in buying the twist, but hid it in a fit of pique on discovering that the tailor had released his mice. The finished coat is a triumph and the tailor’s fortune is made.

Tailor

Glyn Kerslake and Gareth Machin’s musical adaptation of this story is a little gem and a perfect Christmas entertainment for young children.

Performing it in the more intimate space of the Salberg studio (underneath Salisbury Playhouse’s Main House) allows the cast to engage with the audience right from the start, moving amongst them and chatting with the children – later even getting a few volunteers involved in assembling the pieces of the mayor’s coat.

The actors also deal masterfully with a number of unsolicited interjections, which are perhaps inevitable once it has been established that the children have permission to interact with the characters.

The songs are catchy and fun, the music being played with aplomb by Glyn Kerslake (in mouse costume) on a piano in the corner. Lara Stubbs makes a chirpy and sympathetic tailor and Jake Mitchell performs with energy and enthusiasm, moving between his roles of flunkey, mouse and general cheerleader for the audience participation numbers with ease.

Tailor

Natalie Williams excels as the crabby tabby, Simpkin, a grouchy, sly and selfish cat, whose purringly slinky song about favourite kinds of fish is one of the highlights of the show.

Verity Quinn’s set eschews the grinding poverty and bleakness portrayed in Potter’s original illustrations, preferring a relentlessly pink confection of boxes, tiles and hangings.

It is, nevertheless, a clever set, enabling the actors to pull out and return the tailor’s cutting bench at will and splitting apart at the end to reveal the finished coat – a magnificent piece of work, which is promptly modelled to perfection by Jake Mitchell’s prancing and flamboyant flunkey.

To call this show in any way old-fashioned would be grossly unfair. However, it does hark back to an age when the attention of children could be captured by simple well-told stories, without all the gaudy bells and whistles that the Disneyfication of the world of children’s entertainment has made seemingly inevitable.

Tailor

And it is all the better for that. To see the wonder on the faces of the young audience members as flakes of snow flutter down at the end (bringing tears to the eyes of more than one adult, too) is a joy in itself.

I have no hesitation in saying that this is one of the most likeable shows I have seen all year.