Moominsummer Madness review – Tove Jansson's world brought to life with knee-high puppets

Royal & Derngate, Northampton
This skilful adaptation of a much-loved children's book happily defies expectations

Puppets and a children's story – two of my favourite things – what could be better? I was nervous, though, heading off to Northampton. Nothing to do with the partnership of producing companies: Royal & Derngate is a regional theatre; Polka specialises in theatre for children and young people; Little Angel in puppet pieces for all ages. All three have strong reputations. But… the Moomins… on stage?

It's 100 years since the birth of the Finnish writer and artist Tove Jansson, who created Moominvalley and all its inhabitants. Her simple line drawings of strange-shaped creatures and the stories of their adventures seem to live in a world that nestles in among the atoms of our everyday realities. It's hard to think of them as "imaginary". The thought of seeing made-up versions of them in solid form made me feel a bit weird.

Ben Glasstone's music, combined with Laura McEwen's design and Will Evans's lighting create a space where the air is denser than normal and tinged with colour. Small shifts in a seemingly simple set transform kitchen to flooded forest to floating theatre with swift ease. Here, the 11 knee-high and smaller rod puppets that are the Moomin family and their friends (as well as the life-sized, less-than-friendly Hemulen Policeman) breathe and move. Designed by Lyndie Wright, they are operated with skill and affection by Nick Ash, Ruth Calkin, Claire Harvey and Lori Hopkins, who are always visible but never obvious. Phil Porter's adaptation is excellent within its constraints of simplification. Returning from Northampton, I was full of my visit to Moominvalley.


Clare Brennan

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Tove review – gentle biopic of the early career of the Moomins creator
This engaging drama centres on the bohemian postwar years when Tove Jansson began drawing some mischievous trolls…

Simran Hans

11, Jul, 2021 @10:30 AM

Article image
Sculptor's Daughter by Tove Jansson; Tove Jansson: Life, Art, Words by Boel Westin – review

Tove Jansson's magical childhood memoir complements a respectful biography, finds Kate Kellaway

Kate Kellaway

19, Jan, 2014 @8:00 AM

Article image
Beyond the Moomins: Tove Jansson's art gets major UK exhibition
London show will feature newly-found work from Finnish artist popularly known for her hippo-like valley-dwellers

Maev Kennedy

20, Oct, 2016 @11:01 PM

Article image
Moomins and more: UK show to exhibit Tove Jansson's broader work
Britain’s first major retrospective of Finnish artist, at Dulwich Picture Gallery, aims to enhance her reputation as serious artist

Maev Kennedy

22, Oct, 2017 @3:02 PM

Article image
The Double – review
A fine cast and stunningly good puppetry make for a complex central portrayal in this adaptation of Dostoevsky's tale, writes Clare Brennan

Clare Brennan

02, Dec, 2012 @12:02 AM

Article image
Moomins on the Riviera review – gentle, old-fashioned animation
There are some sharp gags amid the pastel hues, as Tove Jansson’s beloved Moomins head for the Côte d’Azur

Mark Kermode, Observer film critic

24, May, 2015 @6:59 AM

Article image
Babe, the Sheep-Pig review – puppet porker's farmyard caper
This Dick King-Smith adaptation is a bit unsteady on its trotters but its merriment has some of the audience bouncing in their seats

Miriam Gillinson

08, Dec, 2016 @3:09 PM

Article image
Tove review – impassioned portrayal of Moomins creator lights up biopic
The story of Tove Jansson’s artistic struggles and daring bisexual affairs in 1940s Finland is energised by a shining central performance from Alma Pöysti

Cath Clarke

08, Jul, 2021 @8:00 AM

Article image
Moominland Midwinter; The Good Neighbour; The Night Before Christmas – review

The lovably eccentric Moomins make their UK stage debut, writes Susannah Clapp

Susannah Clapp

29, Dec, 2013 @12:05 AM

Article image
How to Hide a Lion review – kids' book comes to life with a roar
Peter Glanville directs an enchanting musical adaptation of Helen Stephens’ picture book about a girl who strikes up a friendship with a forlorn lion

Lydia Davies

01, Nov, 2016 @7:10 PM