Review of A Tiger’s Tale at Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield By Michelle Rawlins
This is an enchanting production based on the astonishing yet true story of Finella, a Sumatran tiger, who came to live in the hills above Holmfirth, in the rural backwater of West Yorkshire, in the 1940’s after she was saved by a travelling circus family.
This one man and two woman cast magically tell the astonishing story of the little tiger cub (named Ella for the play) that was set free of a life of drudgery and given a new home.
The scene is set with what appears to be a very ‘normal’ family who want to do something exciting with their lives.
They soon discover what they are quite good at is amateur acrobats after realising they can balance on some very precarious ladders – a sure queue for lots of giggles for the young audience it is aimed at.
So when a letter arrives inviting them to join a travelling circus in South Africa, they pack their bags and sail away to their new future.
And once they arrive they set to work performing their new found skills. That is until daughter, Titch, played by Sophia Hatfield, discovers one of the performing tigers has given birth to a new cub.
Determined to give her a better life, she convinces ‘Ma’ and ‘Pa’ (Nicole Jayne Ingram and Owen Gaynor) to allow her to keep the tiger as a pet and before long bring her home to Yorkshire.
Ella, who first appears as a soft furry blanket soon grows and is created from an old pram, roller skates a piece of rope and a mask. The loveable mechanical puppet is wheeled around the very simplistic stage to the delight of those watching.
True to the well-known story, the amenable yet unusual pet, enjoys nothing more than sleeping on the family couch, having three meals a day and taking a walk around the local back lanes to the delight of the nearby children.
Olivier award winning Mike Kenny, from Rochdale based M6 theatre, who also brilliantly adapted The Railway Children for the stage, has done a superb job of recreating this extraordinary story and making it accessible for a young audience.
Despite a very minimal set, consisting of a travelling home that doubles as a ship, and just a few props, imaginations are successfully captured by the dynamic actors who keep the story alive with interludes of music and dance.
Comical at times, poignant at others, this is a delightful and heart warming piece of children’s theatre – made even more special by the fact it really did happen.
And for those who are eager to know more about the infamous tiger, who escaped a life of forced tricks to live a charmed and unique existence, there is a small yet beautifully insightful exhibit to wander around after the show, hosted by the actors. It includes blown up black and white photos of Prunella and the Overends family, and a book about their rather unusual but wonderful life.
A must see for young and old that can’t fail to impress.
Touring until April 7
Tickets – £8 for children/ concessions & £12 for adults.
Photos by Lewis Wileman