There was no clear reason why the whale entered the Thames in 2006, nor why it touched so many people who lined the Thames hoping to see it. Lunidea have seized on the miraculous, magical aspect of the story and in Once Upon A Thames they present it as a fairytale, complete with a troubled Storyteller, a magic flute, a comic Bird, a malevolent Siren and of course, a Whale who is unaware of the trouble she is about to encounter. It is an utterly charming evening that blends dance, music, mime, video and sand animation in a production that could soften the most hardened, cynical theatre-goer.
Firstly, who doesn't find sand animation impressive? (See clip). Cassimo (Lunidea artistic director) as the Storyteller, tells an enigmatic, sad story of lost love with a lightbox and handful of sand, setting the style of Once Upon A Thames. The play is mainly wordless, using the comic mime skills of Svetlana Biba as the Bird and the graceful light touch of Rachel Riveros dancing the part of the Whale to explain, in fairytale terms, what happened. The Whale is young, innocent, dancing joyfully into the unknown with her flute, which is her whalesong. The Bird befriends the Whale and as they dance together, they express the wonder of the original whale story and why many people felt moved by it.
Musician and singer Phildel plays the Siren of the City who jealously seizes the flute from the Whale, causing the Whale's ultimate sad demise. Through her emotive songs, Phildel is petulant, jealous, yearning to be loved but thoughtlessly cruel. Among the dance, mime and music, 'news' projections pop up and these staged reports hilariously highlight the prosaic story unfolding on land while wonder and magic was unfolding in the river. Genuine news footage showing the distressed whale combined with the pathos of the Bird trying to save her on stage a magnificent, tear-jerking finale. The Thames whale was special, and Once Upon A Thames confirms just how special it was.
Once Upon A Thames at Leicester Square Theatre. Last shows today, 3pm and 7.30pm.