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Rosie Goodwin
Family Arts Correspondent
10:06 AM 1st January 2020

A Little Christmas Magic With ‘The Storm Whale’ At York Theatre Royal

York Theatre Royal’s productions in The Studio can always be relied upon to bring a little magic to Christmas for families with little ones.

The Storm Whale. Photos by Northedge Photography
The Storm Whale. Photos by Northedge Photography
This year, it is ‘The Storm Whale’ that charms us so resolutely, a quietly evocative tale of a most unusual friendship, adapted from two books by Benji Davis: The Storm Whale and The Storm Whale in Winter.

Written and directed by Matt Aston, for whom the two beautiful picture books were apparently a firm family favourite, it contains all the elements for a magical wintry theatrical adventure – a Christmas setting, twinkling stars and, of course, the requisite sprinkling of snow.

Most parents can relate to main character Noi’s monotonous routine. Ours generally features the school run, lashings of fish fingers, bath time and bed. For Noi (played by Cassie Vallance), there is a fair amount of fish-eating too (his father is a fisherman, after all), lots of teeth-brushing and the stroking of one of six cats.

Something a little harder for many of us to get our heads around these days is Noi’s lack of companionship (cats not withstanding). Noi misses him mum dearly, craves change (some attention from his hardworking, busy and presumably exhausted father) and longs for company.

Those of us born before the social media revolution can remember, of course, what it is to be alone, but few of us these days are more than an emoji from our friends.
As such, ‘The Storm Whale’ feels like a traditional tale, set in another time and place, as though it has always been there. It is serene, contemplative storytelling, brought to life not only by the cast of three, including narrator and character Flo (Géhane Strehler), whose part in the story comes only in the closing moments, but also by an array of puppets, skilfully and seamlessly integrated into the narrative.

Puppet Maker Keith Frederick and Puppet Director Sue Dacre are the pair behind the seagulls, pussy cat and the whale itself, who weave and wend across the set, mesmerising and soothing, to an atmospheric soundtrack composed by Julia Butler. The storm itself is quickly over, but the story, the friendship and the themes it sets in motion are explored across the ensuing sixty or so minutes.

Produced by York Theatre Royal, Little Angel Theatre and The Marlowe and Engine House, ‘The Storm Whale’ is a enchanting tale, perfectly adapted with little ones firmly in mind. But the themes – of friendship, loneliness, loss and love – are certainly big, the messages powerful, to be taken home and mulled over (perhaps with a glass of mulled wine). And for me, this Christmas holiday, it is the perfect remedy for anyone seeking drama that is a little calmer, yet still magical, during this most outlandish of Panto Seasons.

The Assistant Director was Kate Veysey, Lighting Designer Jason Salvin, with set design by Lydia Denno. Due unfortunately to cast illness, we also got more than a glimpse of multitalented Director Matt Aston, who stepped in to play the role of Noi’s father instead of the usual Julian Hoult.
‘The Storm Whale’ has been developed for families with children aged over 4 and there are still performances available until Saturday 4 January. Tickets start at £15. For more information, contact the Box Office on 01904 623568 or go to www.yorktheatreroyal.co.uk
Those wishing to explore storytelling further with their pre-schoolers may be interested to hear about the regular Story Craft Theatre sessions held every Friday morning during term time at York Theatre Royal. For more information go to www.yorktheatreroyal.co.uk/crafty-tales/