Sitting down waiting for The Firework-Maker’s Daughter to begin, it was difficult to imagine the performance would be captivating. The stage was grey, unadorned, simple verging on basic, whilst the small orchestra plucked and tuned their instruments with twangy detachment to the incoming audience.
However, like many great adventure stories, this performance starts at the ordinary and very quickly sweeps you into a world full of the fantastic, the incredible and the utterly extraordinary.
A fairytale written by Philip Pullman, The Firework-Maker’s Daughter tells the story of Lila (Mary Bevan) on her quest to become a firework maker after her father, Lalchand (Wyn Pyncarreg) declines to teach her (what sort of man would want a wife with ‘powdery hair and chemical hands’ after all?). With the help of her friends Chulak (Amar Muchhala) and Hamlet, the King’s great white elephant (James Laing), they embark on an adventure complete with pirates, wild animals and the fiery boughs of the Fire-Fiend.
It is undoubtedly a children’s tale. Bevan plays Lila fantastically – full of itchy discontent at her current lot in life and breathless excitement at what the future may hold as a fire maker. Big laughs come from Andrew Slater as the self-professed 'jack of all trades' but certainly master of none. However, the production is so cleverly put together that there is more than enough to keep the grown-ups entertained too.
Most importantly, the performance does not feel in the slightest bit over-produced – and with such a fantastical story it would have been very easy to do that. The costumes, props and general colour scheme are earthy and rustic, and the use of backlighting, shadow puppets and projections are nothing short of magical. But while many magicians don’t want to give away their secrets, here you are permitted to see how water, oil, magic markers, silk and sand can be used with light projections to create masterpieces. Designer Dick Bird, choreographer Victoria Newlyn and director John Fulljames have much to be proud of.
As an opera, the production is highly accessible. Sung in English and with great elocution the tumbling adventures of the cast are easy to follow and pleasant to listen to. Composer David Bruce has injected a decidedly East Asian influence into the score, skillfully played by Chroma, which only adds to the poignant other worldliness of The Firework-Maker’s Daughter.