The Unity has long eschewed traditional pantomime in favour of magical tales designed to captivate younger audiences.
This season it’s aiming at even younger theatre goers than usual, with Theatre Rites’ Beasty Baby perfect for pre-schoolers and kindergarten kids.
The London-based company made a big impression when it collaborated with Liverpool’s 20 Stories High to present Big Up! – a mash up of beatboxer, singer and puppeteer – at the Hope Place venue earlier this year.
And while there’s no beatboxing this time around, it succeeds again with this mischievous look at the joys and challenges of the early years of parenting in a show which mixes music, movement and puppetry.
Beasty Baby was originally staged in 2015 when it was showered with plaudits, and evidently this welcome revival has lost none of its charm.
There’s an almost hypnotic quality to Sue Buckmaster’s direction (re-directed here by Elgiva Field) married with Jessica Dannheisser's soundtrack as the three performers go through the repetitive and exhausting motions of feeding, winding, entertaining, changing and putting to bed their tiny responsibility.
The baby of the title grows from (invisible) newborn to burbling baby to talking tot – a puppet with a shock of Stan Laurel hair, Cabbage Patch doll face and chubby little body - over the course of 50 minutes, and from being completely dependent on its carers to exerting its own will (with more than a little foot-stamping wilfulness).
Beasty Baby. Photos feature a previous cast.
Actress-puppeteer Teele Uustani brings the baby to life with seemingly simple but very effective – and discreet – movements, while Elliot Liburd and Emily Windham compete to entertain the household's little emperor.
It’s never very clear who has what parental role in this somewhat unorthodox, three-pronged living arrangement.
Not that that matters to its core audience, who at the show I attended were utterly entranced by the story unfolding in front of them; in many cases compelled to comment on the action in little voices full of absolute wonder.
“I’ve never seen him so animated,” I overheard one adult supervisor say to another of a little boy at the end. Job done.
Parents of small children will find much to amuse, delight – and recognise – in the action. And those considering becoming parents might find it an eye-opener as well as an inventive and enchanting slice of live theatre.