What do Angela Lansbury, Studio Ghibli, Ian Holm and John Goodman have in common (beyond being excessively talented)? They have all been involved in adaptations of Mary Norton's work. And now it is the turn of The Watermill Theatre who this year adapt the writer's classic text, The Borrowers, a story that is prime fodder for a Christmas show fit for all the family.
Drawing from material across the five Borrowers books there is a refreshing clarity to Theresa Heskins' adaptation. She has managed to marshal the plot strands into a concise, spritely play. Telling the story of Arrietty, a young Borrower, and her parents Pod and Homily, The Borrowers explores her first steps out into the world above her, and the repercussions of her interactions with the human inhabitants of it.
Where The Borrowers stands out is how engaging and approachable it is for the diverse audience that were at the theatre. The production has an accomplished ensemble who bring a welcomed energy to the show through their effective doubling and tripling of roles. They even prove a dab hand with musical instruments, providing the score for the proceedings. Nenda Neurer is particularly good as Arrietty, acting as an appealing connection for the audience into the world of The Borrowers, with the story mostly told from her perspective. But each of the cast has a moment to shine, particularly as the playful side of the production comes out in the second half. It is here The Borrowers receives some well-earned laughs, having skillfully established its world at the start of the show.
One has to applaud the designer of this show, Toots Butcher. The costumes are great, the set accomplished for the space that is available (The Watermill has small but beautifully formed thrust stage), and the props garner some lovely chuckles. The rest of the production has a slickness that once again highlights the quality that comes with a Watermill production and the excellence of artistic director Paul Hart's direction. It is nice to see the theatre place such a credence on family theatre and the audience, composed of children and adults alike, were remarkably well-behaved. Surely more productions should be aimed at this audience, and be as approachable as The Borrowers.
With an energetic, talented cast and an accessible adaptation, the Watermill Theatre have produced a Christmas show that lives up to the much-loved series. The Borrowers is a firm reminder that if you produce good theatre fit for all, then you will be rewarded with a full house, and highly receptive audience.