I was feeling grumpy when I went into this show and had decided I was not going to enjoy it. I had rushed to get there having just got off the train. It had started late, and if it overran I wasn’t going to have time to get to the next show. And I’m not sure I’m really in to kids’ shows.
Within seconds of entering the theatre, I began to get slightly less grumpy. The actors were working hard to build bonds with the kids in the front row, handing out tiny flowers and asking their names. And once the action started I was captivated.
The set comprised the following four elements:
- Front and centre, a pond-shaped piece of blue cloth on the floor. When one of the actors waved his hands close to the surface, there was a sound effect as if he was actually splashing the water. That was cool.
- Further back, stage left, a weird custom-made contraption about four feet wide: part chest, part table, and it turned out to be the stage set and scenery for the mini-puppetry that was to take place. That was cool too.
- Just beside the pond, a camcorder pointing at the custom-made contraption. That wasn’t so cool, until you saw what they did with it.
- Further back, stage right, a blank, darkened screen
The plot involved a rather sickly-sweet couple – a prince and a princess – whose idea of fun was walking in a garden or riding a horse together. Very wholesome stuff. There was a male and female actor playing the parts, and they also operated tiny puppets to play their parts on the tiny stage set.
First cool thing about the camcorder: it projected the puppetry and the intricately detailed stage set onto the big screen. Damn, they had put a lot of detailed effort into that cute little set.
Another cool thing about the whole production: the interaction between the live action that takes place in front of the screen, and the tiny custom-made contraption. Example number one. Actor and actress walk in front of screen. Onto the screen is being projected the camcorder footage of the scenery on the contraption, which includes an apple tree. Prince reaches up to pick an apple from the tree to share with the princess. The apple on the tree starts to move: someone is hiding behind the contraption and will eventually dislodge the apple from the tiny scenery backdrop so that it falls to the ground, out of the camera frame. As our eyes are distracted in the direction of the contraption to see how they’re doing the trick, an apple miraculously appears in the hands of the prince (presumably hidden up his sleeve somewhere). This was far more magical than anything we were to see in Snap over in the Assembly Theatre – all the more enchanting because the trick was so unexpected.
The couple were, of course, in love. A wicked witch was jealous of their blissful existence, and decided to stir things up a bit. First she makes the couple quarrel. Then she turns the Prince into a frog. To win the princess’s heart the frog promises to find a golden orb that she has managed to drop in the pond – provided he gets a kiss as a reward.
At this point the custom-made contraption goes through a minor modification and a tiny water tank is revealed beneath the garden. Some very simple but effective camcorder work takes place: as the prince pretends to swim underwater in front of the screen which contains the camcorder footage of the fishtank, the camera makes short, jerky panning movements across the tank, making it look as if each stroke of the frog’s arms is propelling him forward. Genius.
Of course, the prince retrieves the orb but the princess doesn’t want to kiss him. And the moral of the story is all about keeping promises.
Frog Prince is from Brush Theatre / Theatre Haddangse (they seem to go by both names), who have brought us Brush in previous years. Brush has a much more complex story and is rather difficult to follow. Frog Prince is very easy to understand. It has a simple moral for the children, it has clever use of technology, and enchanting story-telling. It is pure magic and was unquestionably LKL’s highlight of the Fringe.