The Terrible Infants at Wilton’s Music HallCultureTheatre
Yes, Les Enfants Terribles are known for making the macabre merry, the spooky seductive, the decrepit delightful. There’s no better showcase for their aesthetic than The Terrible Infants, the 2007 play that cemented their identity. Its new production makes itself at home at Wilton’s Music Hall, whose faded opulence seems like an extension of the show itself.
So ensues a patchwork of cautionary tales, presented so beautifully that each moment could be a tableau straight out of a children’s picture book. The stories are full of alliteration, irreverence and humour and the songs are accompanied live. One by one, we meet our fated protagonists. There’s Tilly who can’t help telling tall tales. And Mingus, untroubled by thoughts of hygiene: “He’d be doing time if mucky was a crime”. Then we have Finbar, whose affinity for fish leads him to his doom. And Beatrice, who “talked” so much that all the donkeys in the village where she lived were missing hind legs”. (That particular story is specially narrated via audio by Judi Dench.)
Almost all of the children in this darkly fantastical world are played by puppets. Several are operated via the Bunraku method but only by one puppeteer, making it all the more impressive that the movement is so realistic and the act of walking so deliberate. A collection of innovative masks includes one that can be flipped upside down to become either mother or father.
The set and effects are shabbily magical. It’s difficult not to be mesmerised by an underwater scene featuring undulating cellophane waves and real bubbles. Elsewhere there’s shadow puppetry and an almost life-size gypsy caravan, all looked down upon by a storybook sun with a glint of bloodlust in his eyes.
A multi-talented troupe turns its hand to a variety of instruments (squeezebox, violin, drums, saxophone and flute to name a few) and circus-esque wonders like contact juggling.
In the capable hands of these master storytellers, these champions of the quaint and the queer, The Terrible Infants is an unforgettable bedtime story melded with all the fun of the fair.
Photo: Rah Petherbridge
The Terrible Infants is at Wilton’s Music Hall from 27th September to 28th October 2017. For further information or to book visit the Wilton’s Music Hall website here.
Watch the trailer for The Terrible Infants here: