ZOE WATERMAN opens THE BORROWERS at Theatre By The Lake

Whats Good To Do

4 stars out of 5

The Borrowers At Theatre by the Lake, Keswick review

Reviewed by Jo Hardy

A trip to the theatre at Christmas is one of the best ways to bring the family together and make lasting memories.
This year Theatre by the Lake’s Christmas show is “The Borrowers” Mary Norton’s classic story about a family of tiny people living under the floorboards in a Manor House, I can remember watching this on TV many years ago and was looking forward to seeing how this would be adapted for the stage.

The theatre was full on “Christmas “, huge colourful baubles hanging in the foyer and a lovely Christmas tree that appeared to go through the ceiling and yes when we went upstairs the top of the tree was on the second floor, before the auditorium opened encouraged by the staff we had a fun time trying to find teeny tiny borrowers figures scattered about the foyer, apparently there were 30 but we only managed to find 15.

The show is a mixture of acting, singing, dancing and puppetry.  All the cast played different instruments throughout the show playing a lot of music with a folksy feel to it.  It was also lovely to see a local youth cast in the show.
The mixture of “borrowers” and full sized humans was cleverly represented sometimes using the most adorable puppets as well as other staging techniques.  At the very start of the show I was a bit confused about who was a “Borrower” and who was a human but the difference became more apparent after the first few minutes and was easy to separate the two for the rest of the show.

The “Borrowers” were brilliant recyclers, sneaking into the house to borrow items they could use in there little home under the floor boards.  Their life was turned upside down when they were spotted by the humans and to save themselves they had to make a run for it and find a new place to live, this time outdoors.  It was here they met Spiller who turned out to be their saviour.  He was a scruffy rather dirty boy and Homilly the mother borrower took the first opportunity she could to wash him while they were sailing down the river in his sardine tin boat.  When this happened the audience were showered with real bubbles and I felt like I had a wash myself.

The show is full of talented people who did a great job of transporting me into the life of the “Borrowers” but for me the star was the singing cricket.

Not as Christmasy as I had hoped but still a lovely family show with a happy ending. reinforcing the importance of family and showing us that it is possible for the little people to win.


The Guardian

3 stars out of 5

The Borrowers review – less a wild adventure more an escape from trauma

Theatre by the Lake, Keswick
Mary Norton’s 1952 novel about tiny pillagers gets a sober stage remake that blends minor-key music with contemporary fears

When Suella Braverman talked about an “invasion” of immigrants, she was using the language of othering. The word is only one step away from “infestation”: the idea that some alien force is taking over.

That is pretty much how the humans think of the Borrowers in Mary Norton’s children’s classic. These diminutive creatures live beneath the floorboards and make use of the matchsticks, teacups and biscuit crumbs discarded above. They could hardly be more peaceable, but to their mighty human adversaries, they are a threat.

Theresa Heskins’ adaptation brings out the links between Norton’s 1952 fantasy and another book published the same year, Anne Frank’s Diary – something you can see in Arrietty, the Borrower daughter, frustrated to be locked away, never to engage in the to-and-fro of the world. Forced to flee, she makes a journey with her parents, Homily and Pod, that is an exodus across alien territory, beset by the fear of being seen. It is a fear just as real to those migrating across continents today.

That is why, in Heskins’ adaptation (which first aired at the New Vic in 2015), Norton’s tale seems less like a wild adventure than an escape from trauma. Musical director Greg Last and a cast of actor-musicians give attractive settings to the score by James Atherton, even as its klezmer-influenced songs are weighted by their yearning minor keys.

So far so soulful, if only the songs did not interrupt the action rather than propel it forward. And if only what should be an urgent tale did not have so fitful a dramatic spark. The play has moments of jeopardy and delight, but retains its episodic origins.

Add to this a tone more sober than celebratory, and the 1940s sepia of Bronia Housman’s design, and the result is an unseasonably brooding production from director Zoë Waterman. There are lively performances from Courtney George (Arrietty), Katherine Toy (Homily) and Michael Blair (Pod), and good theatrical fun is had with the contrasting scales of Borrower and human – but the mood is tempered by a show more concerned with the darkness of captivity than the release of freedom.

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