Review – Midnight’s Pumpkin – Kneehigh at Battersea Arts Center

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Ah, Kneehigh – for you and me, it is the love/hate relationship. But for all that I loved Brief Encounter, how long will the name keep enticing me to come back and see shows that are not just lacking in theatrical magic, but vile or … worse …. boring?

Well, it hasn’t happened often enough yet, because I went ahead in July and bought tickets for their latest show, Midnight’s Pumpkin, billed as a family friendly Christmas time thing sort of based on Cinderella and for prices higher than I would have paid if I’d waited (see Theatremonkey.com for details). Ah well, still, it’s not like £20 is going to kill me …

Anyway, the deal is the big space at Battersea Arts Centre has been transformed into an in the round performance area, with a big open space in the middle that you access via a series of changing rooms. For extra fun, we’re encouraged to put on costumes (after the first interval) and to become a part of the ball. I found the invitation to dance quite enticing given the music they were playing … all sorts of disco and 80’s tunes (in fact, the evil stepfamily’s post-interval dance to “Temptation” by Heaven 17 was one of the highlights of the evenings for me) not so suited to the under 10 crowd but likely perfect for their parents.

But I digress. The play, itself, is a variation on Cinderella: our heroine is, actually, called Midnight, and the narrator is a pumpkin she grew. Rather than being a repressed girl in tattered clothes who spends her time cleaning a mansion, she’s a short, geeky teen (with big glasses) whose big-hearted but somewhat clueless dad thinks a pre-made family of older, fashion-obsessed sisters is just the thing she needs to get past grieving over the loss of her mother. There are also some cute mice that move the action along and keep getting confused about her name, and a band, which accompanies songs that the various characters sing (all forgettable).

For me, one of the big mysteries of this show was Prince Charming. Played as a completely egotistical jerk who is promoting his bride search on Facebook and Twitter, he seems like the perfect opposite of a good companion for Midnight: we want her to escape and be happy, but is being with this cretin actually a win for such a sensitive soul? I found myself rather hoping for a different ending, in which the prince is turned down and perhaps chooses to marry one of the two sisters, both of whom seemed well suited to him (except for their inconveniently large feet).

This, however, was not to be. Midnight wants the prince, and the moment in which they recognize their love for each other was the best in the show: she is suspended from a hoop from the ceiling, doing aerial acrobatics, occasionally touching down for some pirouettes in her lovely red pointe shoes. Then a shower of silver glitter falls from the ceiling. Aaah! Just lovely! And Midnight is not just cute and petite but massively strong and graceful! What a heroine!

But, ultimately, not enough to save this show from being fairly mediocre, at least if you’re over 12. I suspect that between the dancing, the audience interaction, the costuming, the lightheartedness, and the supporting food and drinks, that if you have a kid this might be a fine evening. But for me, my buttons were not pushed, and the contrast between the vile attitude of the prince and humanistic inclinations of Midnight were too strong for me to overcome them in the interest of Making The Required Narrative Happen. If her fairy pumpkin’s advice can be to not wear synthetic underwear, surely he could have gone off piste enough to warn her against marrying egotistical jerks?

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, December 14th, 2012. The show continues through January 13th.)

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