I’m 24 years old. All I had to do in the Polka Theatre during my showing of The Lost Spells was suspend my disbelief a little, get over the child-oriented flow of lyrics like “I’m a jackdaw/cutting like a hacksaw” and the occasional cheap-pop “smelly poo” joke – et, voila! What a gorgeous show, inside and out.
A Goblin production originally staged earlier in the year at Watford Palace Theatre, Mary Erskine and Will Dollard transform Jackie Morris and Robert MacFarlane’s original anthology of poetic spells into the tunes of a multi-genre musical, with Matt Borgatti’s book tying things all together by creating a sweet and evocative narrative, inspired by prequel book, The Lost Words.
Our protagonist is a naive 12-year-old girl (Miriam Nyarko). She’s just moved to Wimbledon from goodness-knows-where, and her first day of secondary school has gone horribly wrong. Lamenting the fact that she failed to introduce herself to her classmates, let alone impress them, she finds a special book under her pillow. A world of magic, nature and self-discovery awaits, just outside her window…
The performances are truly lovely; Paula James’ as the Motown diva Jackdaw in particular benefits from her oozing of confidence, and I applaud Alex Wingfield’s ability to naturally transform from animated fox to Scottish Selkie with just a costume and accent change. Lucy Yates’ Woodpecker does little in the show that doesn’t involve showing off her stellar drumming skills, which makes her feel a bit underutilised.
However, for a play about words, it’s surprising how the play’s best moments – in my opinion – are the visuals. Throughout the show there is puppetry, neon lighting, a mirrorball and even more gimmicks – hats off to illusion designer John Bulleid and puppet master Amber Donovan Kahn for this!
My favourite scene involves a love song to dandelions, a trapeze swing for our protagonist (who, spoiler alert, is named Jay after the bird) and a bunch of floral confetti making a brief cameo in the air. (That being said, do keep your eyes out for the genius that is the conker fight…)
The Lost Spells is the perfect act of persuasion in creating tall trees from tiny acorns; to write song and spell in times of darkness, just like Jay does. While it’s obviously not a guarantee, adult viewers are likely to find that youthful sense of wonder – my Mum, who accompanied me, shed a few tears. As for the children? They’ll just be mesmerised.
The Lost Spells is at Polka Theatre until 7th May 2023.