Take a trip to The Magic Toyshop..

The Magic Toyshop

Audience members expecting a buoyant tale of happy ever after will have left Chapter with quite a surprise this evening after Theatr Iolo and Invisible Ink’s production of The Magic Toyshop.  Based on the gothic fairy-tale penned by Angela Carter, famed for her feminist and magical realism, the story explores the eerie world of forbidden desires and dark family secrets.

Following the death of her family, 15 year old Melanie is transported away from the classic, middle-class comforts of her safe, idealistic life into a parallel world.  Put in the care of her twisted Uncle Philip, her world turns a darker shade of black as the demented threads of her new family home quickly start to unravel, and an unsettling world of living dolls, abuse and incest rise to the surface.

The stage was used with strong effect, with elements of the set being transformed with ease, intensified by an interesting and intense use of lighting.  The five person cast was overall an effective team, although certain members of the cast quite easily outshone others.  Comedy was interspersed throughout which helped to reinforce the dark, Gothic undertones of the play; unfortunately, I did feel like this needed to be emphasised even further.  For such a disturbing (strike – incredibly disturbing.  Certain parts left me feeling quite uncomfortable) story line, I wasn’t overwhelmed by the darkness of the production.  Perhaps that was not the intention; and I can understand the way it was presented would appeal to a wider audience.  For my personal taste, if something is dark I want it to be dark!

Ignoring the (at times) disjointed and unexplained narrative, The Magic Toyshop did entertain.  It was not quite what I expected, but it did deliver a thought-provoking piece of theatre.  Whatever your response, it will totally engross, baffle, shock and disturb; for that alone, this one is worth a watch.

The Magic Toyshop plays at Chapter Arts Centre until Saturday 17th May. For tickets and information, visit the Chapter website.

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THE SELFISH GIANT: ANYTHING BUT A FAIRYTALE ENDING..

Now and again you watch a film that takes hold of you in a way like no other.  It enters your soul and takes you on a journey to a place you’ve  never been before.  It captures something beautiful, illuminating an inspiring message for the world to hear.

For me, that film was The Selfish Giant.

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Taking its title and inspiration from the Oscar Wilde fable, Clio Barnard’s tale of poverty and the loss of innocence is miles away from fairytale territory.  Led by the exceptionally talented Conner Chapman (the loud-mouthed tearaway Arbor) and Shaun Thomas (his softly spoken, horse loving best friend Swifty), the story takes its audience to a post-industrial Bradford estate where selling scrap metal is the only way to make a living.

The unlikely duo hire a horse and cart from the local scrap-dealer, Kitten, (the Selfish Giant) finding old pots and pans, broken scooters, rusty cars and washing machines to earn money for their debt-ridden Mothers.  Influenced by the greedy and manipulative Kitten, the pair set their sights on bigger prizes, hunting down stolen power cables for more lucrative rewards.  They make the perfect team; Arbor has the gift of the gab, whilst Swifty has a natural connection with the horses.  Their beautiful relationship touches on perfection, with Barnard portraying a deep and moving friendship.  Despite their poor, distressing home-life, both share a bond that money can’t buy.  Watching it unfold on screen is one of the most touching aspects of the film.  In a community where the are forced to be the breadwinners for their families, together they are able to let go and be true to themselves: they are able to be children.

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As hardships worsen still, the bleak landscape of working class England is devastating to watch.  The portrayal of the young boys’ lives are poignant, realistic and harrowing.  It’s a situation all too relevant, making the film all the more thought-provoking.  Kitten uses Arbor and Swifty for his own gain, culminating in a heart-breaking ending that left the whole audience breathless.

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I don’t want to give too much away about this film; what I do want to do is urge everyone to go and see it.  Without being too cliché, if there is one film you are going to see before 2014, make it this one.  This was easily one of the most captivating and inspiring films I have seen for a long time.  It was gritty, hauntingly beautiful and above all real.  Barnard’s portrayal of the much ignored poverty across Britain as well as the heartbreaking theft of childhood was poetic and passionate in its approach.

This is a film that will stay with me for a long time.. and I hope it will stay with you too.