(I reviewed this production for the British Theatre Guide – a new one for me, as I’d never seen any children’s theatre since becoming an adult. Am I an adult now? Oh no.)
M6 Theatre Company begin its latest national tour at The Lowry Studio with Tadpoles, a new work from writing team Gilly Baskeyfield and Dot Wood. Aimed at children aged five and above, the ever-popular superhero theme is a strong draw and ensures an enthusiastic audience.
Tadpoles focusses on heroic duo Captain Clever (Luke Walker) and Captain Conker (Emily Spowage), who must use their powers on quests set by Mission Control. When saving the world takes a backseat to their bickering, Mission Control challenges them to overcome their differences or risk losing their capes. Confronting their own strengths and weaknesses isn’t easy, but eventually the Captains learn to cooperate and succeed in their mission to save some stranded tadpoles.
From the 45-minute running time and the small cast of two to the Captains’ brightly coloured costumes and the simple set design, everything is designed and executed with its young audience in mind. That said, there’s still plenty for parents and older children to get out of the show. The two heroes are dynamic, comical and perfect foils for each other—Walker and Spowage perform their roles with all the energy and enthusiasm required to capture a young audience. Mission Control is voiced by Sue Johnston, who most recently appeared as lady’s maid Denker in Downton Abbey.
TC Howard deserves credit for choreographing movement that makes the heroes’ onstage presence even more vivid, from dodging enemy fire and springing up the scaffolding set to donning their capes in unison. Likewise, music composed especially for Tadpoles by Tayo Akinbode marries perfectly with the onstage action, building atmosphere for pivotal moments such as Captain Clever’s brave climb to rescue his friend. There are clear moral messages throughout, which meld naturally with the story rather than feeling forced. Both heroes must learn to cooperate with each other, show kindness and understanding, be honest and believe in themselves in order to succeed.
It might have been nice to have some moments of interaction with the audience woven into the story, but even without this element, Tadpoles is an involving and entertaining show that deserves to be well-received throughout the UK.