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Review: The Borrowers at Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre, Chester

Review by Nigel Smith

CAST aside thoughts of film and television adaptations, turn your imagination up to its maximum setting, and re-immerse yourself in the spirit of Mary Norton’s original text. Bryony Lavery’s new stage adaptation of The Borrowers, as with her Swallows and Amazon’s for last year’s Grosvenor Park season, takes us back to the source material with obvious affection.

There are challenges to be overcome and buckles to be swashed as Lavery’s selection of characters from Norton’s books set forth on a madcap sequence of adventures. Whether it is making a new home in an old boot, overcoming attacks from birds and cats, or keeping safe distance from the Human Beans whilst rescuing one another from danger, our intrepid band of Borrowers attack it with gusto.

There’s a plot of sorts, but the mainstay of the storytelling is in the character development. The beauty of Norton’s tales was their ability to highlight different attributes of personality, and to explore moral ideas, and this translates magically in Lavery’s retelling.

Under the direction of Robert Shaw Cameron, the 12 strong cast are palpably having tremendous fun. Set and costume design from Rhys Jarman play a huge role in making these little people. It’s a game in itself spotting all the references of detail in the costumes and props, from pencil sharpeners and USB plugs as rucksacks to sweet wrappers and garment labels for clothes. The design department have had a field day.

Making us believe that the actors are tiny requires just one simple device, in which we are temporarily shrunk down to their size for the duration of the play. A series of set pieces demonstrate what it’s like to be of Lilliputian scale in a human world, frequently raising enthusiastic rounds of applause. A particular favourite is a rain storm with oversized raindrops plummeting down with enormous plops, to the obvious splashy delight of the children in the front row.

There are too many gleeful performances to list, but highlights are Vanessa Schofield’s brave Arietty, Lisa Howard’s long-suffering Homily, and a trio of splendid characters from Mitesh Soni, including a hysterical rapping cricket.

This is cracking family entertainment demonstrating that, in their 10th anniversary year, the Storyhouse team at Grosvenor Park never tire of telling stories to ignite the imagination of audiences of all ages.

The Borrowers continues in repertory at Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre until 25th August.

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