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Moominsummer Madness at the Polka Theatre

Snorkmaiden and Moomintroll in MoominsummerMadness at the Polka Theatre London

‘Are the Moomins monsters, or hippos?’

This was the question posed by my four- and two-year olds, on our way to see Moominsummer Madness at the Polka Theatre, South London.

If I had to plump for one or the other, I would say they’re more like hippos. Home-loving, a tad territorial, protective of their families, and yes, even graceful swimmers (especially when chasing floating strings of sausages). In this collaboration between the Polka, Little Angel and Royal & Derngate Theatres, the Moomins showed several characteristics similar to those portly grey swimming mammals.

Moomintroll swimming (c) Robert Day

Moomintroll swimming (c) Robert Day

Where the Moomins differ, though, is how they regularly find themselves thrown into anarchic adventures, through the storylines dreamed up by Tove Jansson (their creator and whose centenery it is this year).

Translating one of these zany plots into a stage show was a risky move. A children’s performance works when it can transform something simple (whether that’s a plot, set or concept) into something that works on many levels, because the children in the audience have been able to leave their own stamp on the show. Or, it succeeds if it presents lots of different ideas, in a way that grabs the attention of the youngsters, without blinding them with complexity.

Moominsummer Madness fell into the second category. At one hour and 35 minutes, with an interval, it was the longest performance I’d been to with four-year-old Austin. I did thing it might be too much for two-year-old Gwen. We went to the ‘All Ages Welcome’ performance (the show is billed as suitable for 4-8 year olds) and, so long as you don’t expect younger children to sit quietly through the whole thing, it works. The simple but varied set, the delightful, catchy songs (by Ben Glasstone), and the plot twists – including a play-within-the-play reminiscent of Shakespeare’s very own Midsummer Night’s Dream – are engaging enough to prevent toddlers from exiting in a bored hummph.

MOONINSUMMER_MADNESS_901

And, for children within the age bracket, it’s a grand adventure. The Moomin puppets are operated by Nick Ash, Ruth Calkin, Claire Harvey and Lori Hopkins; the actors are always there, on stage, but cloaked in black to foreground the glowy white stars of the show.

MoominsPappa, Mamma, Troll and SnorkMaiden are swept away from their home by a flood, along with Little My. They journey to safety in a floating theatre run by Emma the stage rat, and then back home again. Along the way, they encounter other whimsical characters: gloomy Misabel, an imposing Hemulan policeman, and Moomintroll’s good friend, Snufkin.

Snorkmaiden, Misabel and Emma in the floating theatre

Snorkmaiden and Misabel in the floating theatre

The different scenes are presented as little vignettes, each with a different feel – some slapstick and pantomimic, others slow and graceful. The songs – beautiful as they were – did make some scenes too long for the interest levels of our four-year-old, but there was usually something interesting to spot on stage. The tree at the edge of some scenes, for instance, which prompted discussions about why , if it was technically the same tree that Moomintroll and Snorkmaiden had been sitting in for the previous scene, they weren’t still in it? And how could they now be off stage, lost somewhere else in the flood?

This is one of the reasons why a performance like Moominsummer Madness is such a magnificent thing for children. Not only does it provide a fabulous piece of entertainment for the family, but it can also help kick-start conversations about truth, reality, storytelling and imagination.

Moominpappa, at work on his play-within-the-play (c) Robert Day

Moominpappa, at work on his play-within-the-play (c) Robert Day

Two-year-old now Gwen keeps asking me where the Moomins are. She loved watching those skillfully crafted puppets glide around in front of her (even during the scary bits, of which there were several). When I reply, I tell her that the Moomins are on the stage. And that they’re also at home. Not Emma’s theatre-home, which was their temporary sanctuary during the flood, and where Moominpappa wrote and starred in his own Midsummer Night’s performance. But in their real home.

Which is on stage.

I’m sure there’s a meaning in that somewhere, and I’ve been trying to puzzle it over these last few days.

Perhaps Austin and Gwen, if they grow up to attend the theatre regularly, will help me work it all out.

Disclosure:  we were given tickets for the family to go see Moominsummer Madness at the Polka Theatre for the purpose of this review, but all opinions are honest and my own.

Don’t forget to check out our guide to the best theatres for kids in London.

Polka_Moomins show image

22 Comments

  • Polly
    June 26, 2014 at 7:10 am

    oh this looks great! would love to see it!

    Reply
  • Mummy of Two
    June 26, 2014 at 8:46 am

    I used to love the Moomins! How wonderful to have an all ages performance, a great introduction for little ones to the theatre.

    Reply
  • Lisa M Prince
    June 26, 2014 at 9:17 am

    arhhh i remember these loved to watch the moomens, bet the show was amazing would have loved to see this x

    Reply
  • laura redburn
    June 26, 2014 at 11:57 am

    i love the moomins! this looks so sweet.

    Reply
  • Donna Navarro
    June 26, 2014 at 12:01 pm

    Oh, I used to love the Moomins when I was little. This looks lovely.

    Reply
  • YouBabyMeMummy
    June 26, 2014 at 5:45 pm

    I used t love the Moomins, how great to see them again x

    Reply
  • Jen aka The Mad House
    June 26, 2014 at 6:46 pm

    Oh I adore Moomins. This looks ace

    Reply
  • Kirsty Hijacked By Twins
    June 26, 2014 at 6:53 pm

    Oh I used to love Moomins, this looks great x

    Reply
  • Hannah Staveley
    June 26, 2014 at 7:14 pm

    Oh wow, looks amazing .x

    Reply
  • Kara
    June 27, 2014 at 5:19 am

    I so wish was coming near me!

    Reply
  • Rachel
    June 27, 2014 at 6:05 am

    The moomins terrify me! I think they’re really freaky but it looks like you all really enjoyed it x

    Reply
  • Michelle
    June 27, 2014 at 6:44 am

    I always found the Moomins to be so odd, but this puppet show looks brilliant!

    Reply
  • suzanne3childrenandit
    June 27, 2014 at 9:01 am

    I was invited to this but thought my children were too old. I do love that theatre though and this looks fab – love the puppets 🙂

    Reply
  • Kate Williams
    June 27, 2014 at 9:57 am

    Love the moomins 😀 And as an aside your blog design is looking really nice!

    Reply
    • Nell
      June 27, 2014 at 2:56 pm

      Aah thank you, Kate! I’m thinking of tweaking it a bit again, but I need to catch up on a few posts first 🙂

      Reply
  • Shell Louise
    June 28, 2014 at 9:31 am

    That’s looks great, I want to go, kids or no kids!

    Reply
  • Healthier Mummy
    June 28, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    Oh, I always loved the Moomintrolls. I like the sound of this show but it does seem a bit long for my three-year-old.

    Reply
  • Lori
    June 28, 2014 at 8:34 pm

    Wow this looks great, F would have loved this, he’s quite good at sitting still and watching theatre performances. x

    Reply
  • wendy
    June 30, 2014 at 8:22 am

    Oh I used to love the Moomins

    Reply
  • agatapokutycka
    June 30, 2014 at 7:41 pm

    I didn’t see this show but I love Polka Theater in Wimbledon 🙂

    Reply
  • Bek
    June 30, 2014 at 9:28 pm

    I’ve not thought about the Moomins for years. I used to like watching them. This show looks great!

    Reply

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