Ipswich: Special fish Clyde and Red Rose Chain work their magic at Christchurch Mansion
Mystery, romance, drama, songs and loads of laughs; you couldn’t wish for a more Christmassy show - and you don’t even need Clyde the Scottish salmon’s help to make it come true.
Clyde is a talking fish skeleton, one of the stars of Red Rose Chain’s festive family fairytale The Magic Fishbone. We’ll get to him later.
The beautiful princess Alicia is poor. Working all day long looking after her 18 brothers and sisters, she has no friends, except for a ragdoll duchess and Percy Pickles, the fishmonger’s son. One day, she gets a fishbone - puppet Clyde - which will give her anything she wishes for as long as she does it the right moment.
It’s an adaptation of a short story by Charles Dickens.
“I had a beautiful edition of it as a child so I’ve known it all my life although it’s not very well known. I’ve always loved it. I think Dickens is really Christmassy. I want to do my own adaption of Christmas Carol one day but thought I’d chip in there with something a little bit more unknown first,” says writer and director Joanna Carrick.
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“When I read it and just took it at face value – she’s a princess, that’s it. When you’re an adult you think ‘she’s not’, she lives in a London house, her dad works in an office, they’re in loads of debt; it must be in her head.”
It’s packed with songs, jokes and some seasonal silliness with Scott Ellis and Joel Johnson both donning dresses at one point as they play all the assorted characters Alicia (Anna Doolan) meets on her adventures so it’ll work for very young children.
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“There are Dickensian themes too, at times it’s almost like a serious play; so there’s plenty to interest and amuse no matter what level you’re working at; it’ll make sense. That’s the message we really want to get across - it’s not just for kids; you don’t need a child with you. A group of adults could rock up and have a really fun night.”
It sounds like the sort of thing you’d imagine the BBC screening on Christmas Day.
“That’s exactly the sort of thing it is. That’s my kind of style with theatre, not all the time but a lot of the time; obviously not Different Buttons and Fallen in Love which are [for a] slightly older [audience] with beheadings etc. My Shakespeare [adaptations] appeals across the generations and this piece has a similar appeal,” says Joanna.
“It’s very funny; we’re laughing a lot in rehearsals. Jimmy [Grimes] has made some amazing puppets and been doing workshops with the actors on how to operate them which has been very exciting.
“He’s working on The National Theatre’s War Horse at the moment which is great; so he’s been making them and getting advice on that in the theatre then bringing them in and that’s all worked really well. They’re a lovely element to the show. The fishbone itself is a puppet which is really exciting; he sings and he’s hilarious. There’s a horrible dog who belongs to the fishmonger, they’re the villains of the piece.”
Adding to the magic is the show’s setting - Ipswich’s Christchurch Mansion. Audiences will come in through the front door, which will be all lit up; led through the entrance hall and into the gallery at the back which is doubling as a theatre.
“The setting is beautiful and it’ll look so Christmassy,” smiles Joanna.
Having seen the show, which is great, I can second that.
The Magic Fishbone, by Red Rose Chain, runs until January 13. Read the review online now.