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The Magic Toyshop - photo by Kirsten Mcternan

The Magic Toyshop – photo by Kirsten Mcternan




Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, Thurs 8 May

From the moment you walked into the studio at Chapter Arts to see this adaptation of Angela Carter’s dark novel you were immersed.

This wasn’t just because of the way the stage that was set up –a split stage with wooden floor at the front and a theatre making up the back, all surrounded by a line of sand (which appeared to be there for no other reason that it look beautiful) – but due to the fact there was already a character on stage.

Acting almost like one of those living models you occasionally see in department store windows was our main characters: Melanie. Wearing just a silky nightie and playing around in her bedroom we were already getting a sense of this 15-year-old girl before the play had even begun.

Having Melanie, played by Jordanna Moran, on stage from the offset made the transition into the play feel very natural. There was no sudden blackout followed by the sound of audience members. This was a characteristic kept strong throughout, a well thought-out set and well practiced stage choreography meant that the audience was never once plunged into darkness as stage hands scrambled around trying to redress the stage as quickly as possible. Instead lights drew your attention to one character, while the others dance and moved around the stage with the props and arranged the next scene. This gave the whole show a great pace as each scene flowed naturally into the next.

As The Magic Toyshop begun we immediately learned a lot about our young heroine Melanie as she pulled sexy poses for her mirror, fanaticised about the many fictional suitors that would seduced her and then turned to cuddle and play with her teddy bear. This is a young girl on the cusp adulthood who dreams of love, marriage and sex but has yet to learn anything real about it.

During her playful pretending at being a grown up Melanie discovers her mother’s wedding dress and, with the rest of her family flying off to America and not around to stop her, she dares to put it on and go dancing outside in the garden. When she snaps out of her euphoria she realises she needs to sneak back into her room by climbing the apple tree, so that she doesn’t get caught by the housemaids and get in trouble for wearing the dress. In the process she destroys the garment, and while she grieves over her destruction she is informed that her family’s plane crashed and that none of her loved ones survived.

With her parents not making any plans for Melanie’s care before they passed she is shipped off to London to live with her Uncle Philip in his toy shop. On arrival she meets plucky Irish love interest Finn (Jonathan Holden), another orphaned family member taken into the home, her mute but loving Aunt Margret (Kirsty Cox) and Margret’s fiddle playing brother Francie (Jack Reynolds).

The spirit in the top shop is jovial as the ominous Uncle Phillip (Kevin Lewis), who we soon learn is a ruthless man obsessed with puppets, is away on business. On his return in the morning we find out that while he controls his puppets with string, he controls his family with violence and forces them to perform in his eerie puppet shows every Sunday.

Things soon start to turn darker and darker as Uncle Phillip decides to cast Melanie in his next disturbing production.

The show has some truly touching scenes, there is one in which Melanie and Finn take an imaginary walk and the performance was subtly beautiful and sprinkled with just a bit of humour. Moran played a fantastic Melanie as a girl who is both discovering herself and this whole new, grubby world she has been thrown into.

Though the character of Finn is a bit of ‘scrappy Irish boy’ cliché Holden balanced it well, flickering well between his deepest hatred and sadness and his brief moments of joy.

Cox was able to get across the emotions of mute Aunt Margret without making it cartoonish and you understood absolutely every thought she wished to expressed (impressive for a character with so few lines), whilst Reynolds stayed quietly but naturally in the background until the very end.

Lewis was a spine chilling villain – accompanied by the fact that every time he was on stage there was the eerie sound of clocks ticking as if he himself were a windup top incapable of caring – with icy cold stares, a barking voice and his way of avoiding eye contact with the audience.

As the play twisted and turned, becoming darker, scarier and more disturbing, we were all slowly draw in to its dramatic conclusion not just by the script and performances but by every single aspect from the stage set-up to the lighting to the sound. Every part of this storytelling has been meticulously thought-out and it certainly paid-off.

Theatr Iolo have done a downright fantastic job of taking a classic novel and making it into an equally fantastic piece of theatre, and I would like to say well done all round!

The Magic Toyshop, Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, Wed 7-Sat 17 May. Tickets: £12/£10 conc, two ticket deal £20/£18 conc if brought in conjunction with a ticket to Theatr Iolo’s other show Gym Party. Info: 029 2030 4400 /

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