“This was the World and I was King” is an original production by the HookHitch theatre company that had its debut at the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe. Critically claimed as a resounding success, it was nominated for the NSDF award and Musical Theatre Network awards, and won an NSDF commendation for puppetry design as well as an array of four and five star reviews. I have friends who enjoyed it so much they went to watch it three or four times at the Fringe. With such an impressive reputation I had a lot of expectations from the ‘folk musical’; it was easily one of the best pieces of theatre I have seen in St. Andrews and definitely one of the most original productions.
Set during World War I, the story revolves around the Connor children who go to live with their paternal uncle on a farm whilst their father fights on the Western Front. To shield them from the horrors of his reality, Andrew Connor sends his children magical stories that they re-enact. It is a play about the power of imagination and vivacity of childhood: themes that are given wonderful depth with the inclusion of puppetry, original score and excerpts from Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘A Child’s Garden of Verses’.
The play is worth your time just to hear the music. It was the perfect accompaniment to each scene, yet could just as easily stand alone. With simple but powerful melodies and beautiful harmonies, if this production had a soundtrack I would not hesitate to buy it.
The acting is superb, the three children, played by Laura Trundle, Laura Hannawin and Nathan Foad, portray the seemingly infinite momentum of youth effortlessly. Their make-believe montages are the highlight of the play, and makes you forget that you are sitting in a simple black-box theatre: a box as a hay loft that was transformed into a mountain range and a suitcase that was an old well and changed to the home of a fortune teller. Nathan Foad excels in exploring the unsteady fulcrum between childhood and adulthood as his character Alexander is torn between playing games with his sisters and taking on adult responsibilities in his father’s absence. Laura Trundle must be commended for her seamless transformation from child to retrospective adult and Laura Hannawin effortlessly evokes the spirit of childhood.
The unique combination of simple yet striking set design, Stevenson’s verse in music and incredible craftsmanship in puppetry invigorate a well-traversed genre with originality. The hand-made puppets add to the world of youth and imagination that the play creates, leaving you with an unsettling mixture of hope and reality. I only wish that the play was longer. It develops poignant themes, contrasts the innocence of youth and reality of adult life beautifully but though incredibly innovative and immensely enjoyable, stops just short of mind-blowing. Nevertheless, this is a remarkable show that will stay with you and is undoubtedly worth a watch.
Photos: HookHitch theatre company