Theatre & Events

The Lost Spells – Theatre Review

Photographer and artist Debbie Attwell reviews The Lost Spells from Goblin Theatre.

As the audience stream in, the large moon and faux candles light up the instruments sitting alone on stage: the double bass, the drum kit, and many more.

We’re here to see The Lost Spells, a new musical based on the bestselling book by Robert Macfarlane & Jackie Morris. The play is aimed at families and children over six, and claims to “celebrate the magic, power and wonder of nature that could be just outside your window”.

The packed theatre is still getting settled when the characters begin to appear on the atmospheric set: the red Fox, the Hare, the Jackdaw, and the Woodpecker, their animal costumes minimal and represented by ear-hats and style of dress.

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The girl with no name is our protagonist, twelve years old and not fitting in at a new school, having trouble finding her words – we all remember being her once upon a time. She’s a modern girl – when we meet her she’s practicing recording introduction videos on her phone – but when she finds an old spellbook under her pillow, she’s thrown into the unfamiliar world of nature and wild animals.

The Fox is her first new companion, taking her out into the night and showing her how a bin can be a diner. As she meets each character in turn, they have varied lessons for her: how words are important, how to tell ‘dandelion time’, how to play conkers, how to strut with confidence. The girl even encounters a seal, which leads to a visually interesting scene utilising puppets.

But it isn’t all fun: the Fox warns the girl that things are ever-changing and words are being forgotten, spells may disappear, and the girl still hasn’t remembered her own name…

Photo by Greta Zabulyte.

I found The Lost Spells’ narrative quite disjointed at times, perhaps due to it being based on a book of poems, and the lessons from the animals along the way felt almost random in their choices. Still, the audience seemed to be having fun, joining in with clapping and stomping as the Woodpecker drummed out a tune; much laughter from children at the Fox as he tried to sleep in an unusual position; and one child heckling the Fox as he stole a mobile phone “You didn’t see anything”, “Yes I did!”.

What we haven’t yet talked about is the music, which is at the heart of this show, and is a large part of the adult appeal. Scenes are interspersed with catchy songs, and our cast are obviously all talented and versatile musicians, switching between numerous instruments. Lucy Yates as the drumming Woodpecker has amazing energy, but it feels unfair to single her out, as all the cast put their all in.

Photo by Greta Zabulyte.

Miriam Nyarko as the girl is fun to watch and fully believable playing an age much younger than her. I feel the character’s emotional progression could have been written clearer, I wanted to see a bit more of how this lost-feeling girl was changed by her experiences.

The set design is simple but effective, although I would have liked a bit more visual variety at times. This particular performance suffered from some technical issues (speakers making popping sounds towards the end of the first half) but the cast were unfazed and didn’t miss a beat.

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The themes of the show are well-intentioned: look out for nature everywhere and learn about it, because it’s disappearing and we need to protect it; but in a world facing a climate crisis, learning how to play conkers and to tell time on a dandelion clock felt a little naive.

Overall I enjoyed the show, but it doesn’t capture the wonder of nature the way the book does, nor do I feel it will inspire a new generation to connect with nature. Is it, however, an entertaining night out for a family, and I recommend catching it if the opportunity comes up.

The Lost Spells is playing at the Watford Palace Theatre until 8th April before touring until 3rd June.

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