The message of The Borrowers is clear – it’s the little things that are important. And I can’t help but feel that that message pervades the way I feel about the whole show.
Firstly there’s something beautifully small about the story that is told. This isn’t to say that the company doesn’t succeed in creating high stakes for its characters. A weekly hoover or a pest exterminator really does carry real threat along with humour, skating just the right side of not scaring the kids too much. But mostly the show’s real victory is imbuing this importance into situations that feel normal – the villain is a strict older relative rather than a wizard, the young protagonist navigates bickering but happy parents rather than an evil step-mother, and the real heart of the story is the feeling of making a close friend and them moving away.
There’s something which feels grown-up in the story’s simplicity. Not that it thinks it is better than its family audience (after all there is a song which gets the whole audience chanting YOLO and a bucket of snot right out of Get Your Own Back) but that it trusts a young audience to be held just as much by friendship and families and dusty old houses as they are by fraught romances and heroes and distant quests. And it succeeds because it gives just as much drama and humour and fun to these things as the most epic of Christmas shows.
Another important little thing is the space. Well, okay, maybe the Tobacco Factory isn’t really that small when it comes to studio spaces, but the effects and locations they can create within it are still amazing. In this production the flexible space is extended through ladders and ropes attached to the ceiling, allowing the Borrowers to clamber and climb.
And then there’s every other little thing within the production – each detail lovingly crafted or amusingly slipped in. The props are perfectly judged to create the tiny-gigantic world of The Borrowers, and the way the interactions between the Borrowers and the Human Beans are staged are particularly inventive and delightful – with a giant pair of glasses or brush representing a character and moving as they converse with the Borrowers onstage. And this delight extends to so much more in the show: from a Jammie Dodger magic trick to a hilarious exterminator advert (‘NO ONE OFFERED YOU A BISCUIT, ANTS!’) to the schemes and rules behind Borrowing.
And what really ties all of these little things together (like a shaggy rug that holds enough crumbs for a Borrower’s dinner) are the incredible performances from the whole company. Simon Armstrong is a compelling host as Human Bean Eddie and David Ridley an adorably nerdy younger Eddie. Craig Edwards and Peta Maurice have a sense of authentic connection as the mis-matched (or perfectly matched) Borrower parents, as well as perfectly tuned senses of slapstick. Jessica Hayles is a compelling protagonist in Arrietty, and along with the wonderful music she provides throughout Ellie Showering got the biggest laughs for her highly strung exterminator. Lucy Tuck is always a fantastic performer, and I feel like in every show I see her in she reveals some other skill, some new delight, and here it is her glorious song about cleaning, revealing alongside her usual comic prowess a truly astounding singing voice.
Going to Christmas shows at the Tobacco Factory since I was a child has been a formative theatrical experience for me. And while my taste in theatre has changed a lot along the way I still love these shows as much as when I was quite a little thing myself. Like so many of these shows The Borrowers is full of wit and silliness and heart. Watching it fills me with warmth and joy, and I just really wish there was a Christmas show every month.
The Borrowers is on at Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol, until 20 January 2019. More info here.