The Magic Toyshop Oxford Playhouse 30 January

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Picture from Magic Toyshop group on Facebook

Oh dear.  The moment this began with Melanie (Bella Hammad) praying downstage centre I knew it was all a mistake and I wanted to leave and go home.

I  think the main problem was that this was a student production where the director’s wealth of extravagant ideas was not curbed by the normal lack of resources.

And the adaptation seemed not to have managed to get the essence of the thing out, so that what was implicit in the novel (and should perhaps have emerged from the interactions between the characters in a stage adaptation) was made painfully explicit–as in Melanie’s opening prayer, voicing her unspoken and unrealised desires.  But I suppose if you start off by remarking It may seem odd that a group of modern students should want to take on and perform a fairly obscure 1960s feminist text, then this doesn’t bode very well for what happens.

There were some decisions I just didn’t understand:  in the novel, for instance, Melanie is struck by how dirty Finn is at their first meeting (dirt…adult male flesh…sex), but here he was perfectly well-presented and only appeared dirty in a later scene so that Uncle Philip could berate him.  And how can Uncle Philip’s small shop of hand-made toys have a cellar full of large tea-chests with say Philip Flower/ Legs stencilled on them, as though it was a mass-production outfit?

As to the performances:  all the actors were obviously the same age, which you can’t help in a student production.  Will Spray’s Uncle Philip was handsome and upright, not squalid and confined as the part demanded, while  Bella Hammad as Melanie did not really seem to internalise her exile from Eden.  Ollo Clark and Chris Morgan had good Irish accents as Finn and Francie.  Madeleine Dodd’s accent as Mrs Rundle was less convincing, but did remind me that Angela Carter was surely removed from South London to Yorkshire at a tender age.

I enjoyed the string quartet.  Dismiss me.  Enough.

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