It’s a mad world for the runaway teenager in Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson’s novel for young people, adapted here by Tron artistic director Andy Arnold for Katie Posner’s dark, fast-moving co-production with York’s Pilot Theatre. The play follows the perils of Leonora, or Leo, the orphaned Anglo-Chinese daughter of musicians, who goes on the run from her creepy Uncle John in search of her Chinese grand-parents in Glasgow.Once on the streets, Leo falls in with the city’s fractured flotsam and jetsam who’ve fallen outside society’s loop, finding sanctuary with Gayle Runciman’s Mary, who survives by dancing to Johnny Cash records at full blast. With paper boy and would-be gumshoe Finlay as a sidekick, Leo’s search is as much for herself as anything else.
With five actors clambering across Gem Greaves’ impressionistic set, and pulsed along by RJ McConnell’s burbling sound design, Arnold and Posner capture the full urgency of Leo’s plight from the get-go. Yet, for all its big-city grit, there’s something of an old-school film noir in Donaldson’s yarn, even as it squares up to some very uneasy truths. In this respect, with Stephen Clyde’s Uncle John in hot pursuit and a million Chinese restaurants holding potential clues, it becomes part detective story, part thriller, and part quest for cultural and personal identity.Jessica Henwick’s Leo becomes a Dickensian pivot on which the play hangs, with Grant McDonald’s Finlay becoming her urchin-like foil. By the end, Leo, Finlay and even Mary may have found some kind of redemption, but, as is hinted at strongly by the lingering presence of Uncle John, they’re far from home and dry.
The Herald, February 8th 2013ends