The Tragic and Disturbing Tale of Little Lupin @ Old Vic, Bristol

cast list
Ed Rapley, Brenda Waite, Richard Hughes

directed by
Luci Gorell Barnes
Commissioned by Theatre Bristol and Bristol Old Vic, The Tragic and Disturbing Tale of Little Lupin is the work of the theatre director and visual artist Luci Gorell Barnes.

Designed as a promenade production, it takes the audience deep into the backstage corridors of the Old Vic and makes use of a mixture of live music, performance and hand-drawn animation.

The results are a cross between an installation and a piece of performance art rather than a purely theatrical experience, suitably demonstrating both spheres of Barnes’ work.
Inspired by the darkness of fairy tales and by stories of feral children, Little Lupin tells the story of a young girl who is bullied for being a wolf-child and is taken to the woods where she begins to live with the wolves. This synopsis sounds promisingly idiosyncratic and exciting and the production certainly starts out well, as the audience are invited to follow a duo of ‘wolf-sisters’ after being greeted by them in the foyer.

The sisters lead us to the first location, where they are joined by a third ensemble member. Everything is done with a measured slowness which adds to the sense of unease and anticipation. You can’t help but find yourself wondering where you might go and what you might do next.

Unfortunately things soon become repetitive and, as you walk through the theatre’s backstage area around various locations that have been transformed into places within Lupin’s world – the woods, a clearing, and the wolves’ den – the novelty wears off and it becomes a bit tedious. There is also a degree of discomfort as audience members are made to interact with each other by playing games, an exercise which occupies almost half of the performance.

The design is glorious and, during the walking sections, there are plenty of miniature art installations to keep the audience occupied; these also serve as plot anchors for the second half of the production, which contains the hand-drawn animation. This takes the form of a short film which tells the story of Little Lupin, and is shown in a small gazebo in the front-of-house area of the theatre. The film is amusing in places and is beautifully framed by the cast, but sitting down to watch this was disappointing; it would have been more interesting to see the story portrayed in a more imaginative way.

The highlight of the night is the musical score, which has been devised by cast member Richard Hughes; he provides accompaniment using a variety of instruments, including an accordion, tuba and even two pairs of scissors. This, combined with strong performances from the rest of the performers – who all demonstrate an excellent level of comic timing – make this production watchable. But good as they were the production as a whole was rather underwhelming and the various creative threads failed to blend in a satisfying way.

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