We're very grateful to our talented Young Ambassador Twinkle for this excellent review of 'The Hug'
What is the story behind the show?
This show is an adaptation of the book The Hug, by Polly Dunbar and Eoin McLaughlin. It follows the tale of two lonely animals, a hedgehog and a tortoise, each in search of a warm, restorative hug. They meet many creatures on their journeys (including a hungry badger, a busy fox, a cheeky magpie and a scatter-brained bunny) but their requests are to no avail - the poor hedgehog is too prickly and the tortoise’s shell is too hard! Luckily, with the help of a kindly owl named David (who tries very hard to be wise), both overcome the challenges they face and never lose hope until they find their way… to each other and to a very happy ending! A truly beautiful and loveable story of courage, empathy and acceptance.
Who are Long Nose Puppets?
Long Nose Puppets was co-founded by Polly Dunbar and Katherine Morton in 2006 and is based in Brighton. Polly is a well-known children’s author and illustrator, and she and Katherine make their puppets out of absolutely anything that will do - socks, umbrellas and even lampshades! They can be all sorts of sizes, ranging from hand-held rod puppets to full body costumes. Polly also has a complete hands-on role in devising the shows and making the puppets, ensuring the final productions are as close to the books as possible - something that makes their company truly unique. Tom Gray of the band Gomez composes the music for the shows, and Ant Morton, actor and puppeteer, helps devise the shows and takes the puppets out on the road with the help of a very talented team, including Annie Brookes, who makes lots of her absolutely fabulous puppets for their shows, and Sophie Powell and Lisa Mills, puppeteers, theatre-makers and key parts in the performance and production of both Du Iz Tak? and The Hug.
Was the show suited to the venue?
I felt the show fitted perfectly with the dynamics of The Bright Foundation’s lovely Barn Theatre - the stage was just the right size, big enough for props and set-up, and for the actors to perform without difficulty, and small enough to give a cosy and magical feel. The smaller sizing of the theatre actually made the experience much more atmospheric!
How is the play treated by the director or creative team? (e.g. how like the book is it/are the puppets?)
The team aims to make every show as close an adaptation as possible to the books they are based on. They stick to the original basis very closely, embodying the essence of the stories used as their template, and of course of the characters and illustrations that inspire the puppets and props (which are instantly recognisable to each other)… I truly think they do a superb job!
What did you think about the performance of the actors – how many were there?
There were four actors present for each show and I thought they performed impeccably. I loved all the different voices and accents they did for the characters and the way they made them interact with each other, as it made the puppets feel really lifelike and the show super-fun to watch! I also liked how they made tiny adjustments to their performance here and there, so that every show became the best it could be. (They really did just keep getting better and better as they went on!)
What did you think of the design (set, costume, lights, audio-visual, music)
I was already in awe of Du Iz Tak? but absolutely blown away by The Hug - the clever background changes from starry night sky to morning sun with a backdrop of trees, plants and planets appearing and disappearing, the beautifully detailed props and and scene-settings… everything was a visual treat and just so flawless! There was a lovely blend of bigger, more complex puppets, mixed with those that were simpler but just as gorgeous - each one had a role to play and made the show brilliant in their own special way. The main puppets themselves are of course utterly exquisite - I think the fox and the magpie are my personal favourites, but then who could forget the badger, the bunny, thoughtful David the owl, the intelligent squirrel (who knows a LOT about nuts) or indeed the stars of the show, the hedgehog and the tortoise? I especially loved the use of music in this production, as it really brought everything to life - the show’s songs proved to be very catchy and very popular, with almost everyone singing or humming their favourites after the show, and I think all of us (audience, performers and staff members alike) still have the tunes stuck in our heads!
What did you think about the use of space on the stage?
All of the stage’s space was used for the show, in a variety of different ways, for both the performance itself and for storing the puppets and props backstage where they would be easily in reach while hidden from view of the audience. I felt that the show taking up the whole of the stage gave it a more magical and realistic quality and overall gave the audience a bigger, better and more absorbing performance than if it only extended to half of the stage.
Any funny reactions from the audience?
Lots of younger members in the audience got very excited calling out what animal they thought their favourite puppet was, especially shouting “Rats! Rats!” whenever the rat puppets (who proved very popular!) appeared onstage. When they met the puppets after the show, several were very confused by the rabbit being in two parts instead of a whole bunny, and thought he was part of a magic trick with the magician sawing him in half! I found it wonderful how much appreciation they had for some of the more minor puppets, such as the shy frog, the elusive worm, the precarious tower of rodents who help Squirrel with her counting, and even the planets - one child was asked what their favourite puppet was and replied, “The sun!” which I thought was a most unique and very beautiful answer.
How did you find children reacted to meeting the puppets and to the workshop afterwards?
The children adored meeting the puppets and were enthralled by how beautiful they were - everyone wanted to stroke the magpie’s feathery head and feed the rats some cheese! They had great fun making puppets of their own on the workshop and it was fantastic how creative some of them got, paying great attention to making lovely detailed markings on the head and wings of their owls, and picking out just the right feathers for their particular designs - while someone else liked the fox from the show so much, they decided not to make an owl and instead created their own fabulous fox puppet!
Have you seen any reviews/comments from the audience online?
Yes, I have seen quite a few and all of them giving extremely positive feedback - many people have remarked on how captivated they were by the beauty and atmosphere of the show itself, and what an enjoyable experience it was (for all ages), with the majority saying that they would most definitely come again!