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Theatre review: Howl's Moving Castle 
27th-Dec-2011 09:41 pm
As The Sarah Jane Adventures proved, older ladies make perfectly good leads in family adventure stories - even if the lady in this case, Sophie (Susan Sheridan,) is in fact a young girl aged by a jealous witch's spell. Southwark Playhouse's Vault is hosting the first stage adaptation of Diana Wynne Jones' Howl's Moving Castle, which tries to create an epic story with only five actors - two of whom aren't even there, as the pre-recorded voices of Stephen Fry and James Wilkes play the titular Castle, and fire demon Calcifer respectively. On a set inspired by a child's pop-up book, the projections (by Davy and Kristin McGuire, also directing, and the latter playing the Witch and Young Sophie) are an integral part of the show.

This was a late addition to my theatregoing when the prospect of a whole theatre-free week around XmasTM seemed terrifying. Though I will admit rumours of Daniel Ings in a very low-cut top might have affected my choice. The top is indeed so low-cut Ings even gets a little comedy aside about his "fabulous chest-hair." As the immature wizard Howl he has a difficult job at first; Fry's narration and Fyfe Dangerfield's music have created such a gentle fairytale mood that the audience isn't anywhere near warmed up for Howl's comic stroppiness. Ings gets us onside after a while though, together with the sprightly Sheridan. The show's use of projection is very ambitious and as such can be hit-and-miss (the video of houses in the distance zooming in until it overlaps the set's doors and windows is lovely, as is the creepy vision of The Waste; some of the syncing with the live action, less impressive) but the willingness to experiment has to be applauded. The amount of storytelling work being done by projection and (not always clearly audible) recordings takes some of the heart out of the show despite the efforts of the flesh-and-blood cast. A show that's quite flawed in its pacing and tone but it feels like the jumping-off point for some potentially exciting theatre in the future.

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, adapted by Mike Sizemore, is booking until the 7th of January at Southwark Playhouse Vault.
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