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Ellie and Starlight

by on 5 April 2019

Caring for Each Other

Ellie and Starlight – the Musical

by Sarah Watson, adapted for the stage by Kenneth Mason, music by William Morris.

Dramacube Productions at Hampton Hill Theatre until 6th April, then on tour

Review by Celia Bard

A beautiful children’s show with an important message about caring for our planet.

Stepping into Hampton Hill Theatre this morning where most of audience were under five was a heart-warming experience. The modest but very effective Icelandic setting with its large glacier dominating the fishing village, and gentle, calm music being played in the background immediately grabbed the attention of this young audience as they entered the theatre, transporting them into the world of Ellie and her ‘imaginary’ friend, Starlight. This young audience sat in their seats absorbing the play content as if they were in a dream – not a cough, not a cry, not a shout. The message in this musical is no dream, it is extremely relevant with its hard-hitting environmental content. The dramatic and music techniques employed by the entire cast, actors, director, writers, composer succeeded in relaying the dangers of global warning through different channels of communication.

The tale told is that of an enthusiastic, thoughtful, and observant little Yupik Eskimo girl called Ellie, and her best friend, Starlight, a delightfully humorous but insightful polar bear. One day Ellie notices that something very strange is happening to her Eskimo tree house.  There are less steps to climb and, as she attempts to uncover the mystery, the problem worsens and her pleas for help go unnoticed by her mother. The resourceful Starlight advises her to seek the help of an old wise woman who lives the other side of the glacier. This journey is not without peril and Ellie encounters a number of dangers as she embarks on this quest to save her Village.

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Not only are all the musical numbers pleasing to the ear, the lyrics written by Kenneth Mason are cleverly and imaginatively embedded in the script. Their rhythmic composition makes it easy for the audience to listen to and comprehend. Music and songs help to bring home the message of global warning.

“Hurry! Hurry!” The first lyric introduces us to Ellie’s mother, Katrin, beautifully acted by Liis Mikk. In this song and in her physical action, we learn that she is a very busy lady. Though a loving mother she is always working, as is her husband who joins her in this strikingly delivered duet. As a consequence, Ellie, played by Kate Barton, spends a great time by herself and communicating with her very real, imaginary polar bear friend, Starlight played by Peter Gardiner. This number is followed by “Don’t Cry, there’s brightness at the end of the day.” This is an optimistic song, which it needs to be as Ellie has just discovered that her tree house has sunk a step. Unable to understand the reason for this nor other strange events happening in the Village, she tries to tell her mother, but she is too busy to listen.

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Starlight comes up with a solution and that is to travel to the other side of the glacier and to ask the advice of the Wise Woman who lives high, high in the mountains. Ellie is frightened, but she puts her trust in Starlight: “I must put my faith and truth in Starlight,” and off they go on a journey which is not without dangers, deep crevices in the glacier, wolves, fierce thunderstorms. The appearance of travelling a long distance is imaginatively executed by the use of a long rope which physically and symbolically link together these two characters.

The following morning Katrin discovers that Ellie is gone. Her thoughts and feeling are expressed in the mournful, plaintive number, “Where is Ellie,” a song full of regrets tunefully interpreted by Liis. In the meantime, Ellie and Starlight have reached their destination and are in conversation with the wonderfully physicalised Wise Woman, a tall, human body puppet wearing a mask. What follows is the song, “The World’s Topsy Turvy,” a song that the very young audience responded to with spontaneous clapping. This song with its strong rhythmic beat accompanied by the beating of a drum, beats out a strong global and ecological message about the whole world being in chaos and danger, e.g. in some countries it hasn’t rained for years. Solutions are suggested as to what everyone on Earth can do to save the planet, and for Ellie she is given the message that in order to save the Village they must move to higher ground.

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Ellie and Starlight is blessed with a talented cast. Katie Barton’s Ellie is enthusiastic, intelligent, and observant and delivers her singing numbers with great confidence. She successfully embodies the spirit of childhood through her physicality which she maintains throughout the production. Peter Gardiner as Starlight presents an amicable, fun loving and resourceful Polar Bear, a character that the children in the audience loved. He is also very believable as the very busy father, too busy to spend much time with his wife and daughter. Katrin as Liis Mikk and also the Wise Woman is an adaptable actress, able to convincingly play both roles and strong musically.

The whole creative team and cast in Ellie and Starlight succeed in communicating eco content information and issues affecting our planet, without being overtly didactic. Dramacube must be congratulated for mounting this highly imaginative production, which has an appeal and message for an audience of all ages. I wish them every success for the rest of their tour.

Celia Bard
April 2019

Photography by Stephen Leslie

From → Musicals, Reviews

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