The Snail and the Whale at The Rose Theatre, Kingston - review

The Snail and the Whale

The Snail and the Whale - Credit: Archant

The picture books of Julia Donaldson and Axel Sheffler have delighted young children across the world with their lyrical rhymes and engaging themes. Now, this clever theatrical adaptation of The Snail and the Whale by Tall Stories brings a new perspective to the already emotionally charged story that will appeal to adults and children alike.

Presented as a favourite bedtime story told by a father who is often away from his beloved little girl with his job in the Navy, the action switches from rhyming narrative to flashbacks and dramatic reconstructions of the tale with plenty of clever puppetry, music and song along the way.

The tale is introduced and watched with affection by Ellen Chivers - the grown-up narrator who invites us to join her in remembering her father’s antics as he played with her childhood self. She adds greatly to the mood with evocative viola music from composer, Richard Heacock, and the play’s poignant ending where she recalls her father’s lifelong loyalty and steadfast love.

Patrick Bridgman is the father, reluctant to leave his young daughter behind to go to sea, and determined to make their last storytelling session the best ever. Bridgman is utterly compelling in the role, particularly when he relates part of the story onboard his naval ship, about the whale swimming into danger and needing rescuing by the snail. He is seen recording his words for his little girl to listen to on CD back home. Relating the tale, the father begins to feel as lost as the giant whale whose adventures he is describing and relies more and more on his daughter’s love as she waits for him back home.

As the playful young daughter, Rhiannon Wallace portrays just the right mixture of vulnerability and spirit as she longs to join her father on his trips around the world. She gleefully laps up every detail of the story, identifying herself with the tiny snail who travels on the whale’s back as he swims off to seek adventure. In the story, the snail saves the whale’s life with courage and quick initiative. Equally, the little girls’ devotion and courage in the face of being parted from her father saves him from becoming too lonely, and sustains their close relationship right into adulthood.

The play contains enough depth of emotion to keep grown-ups engaged, while its lively pace and clever use of designer, Isla Shaw’s props and scenery ensure that young children are enthralled. The Snail and the Whale is enjoyable and thought-provoking, and will stay with its audiences for a long time to come.

• The Snail and the Whale is touring nationally throughout autumn and winter. Find out where and book tickets at