The Iron Man – Unicorn Theatre

Children seem to get a bad rap these days; they can’t concentrate, they’re too noisy and they generally can’t behave. However, present them with the low-fi marvel that is Mathew Robins’ rendition of Ted Hughes’ Iron Man, and perhaps those expectations will change. This afternoon I saw a room full of 6-12 year olds giving their rapt attention, along with an accompaniment of gasps of wonder and giggles of glee.

This imaginative production brings this classic children’s story to life in larger than life form with use of projections and puppets, the largest of which is the Iron Man himself, 12 feet tall with glowing bulbs for eyes. As he strides, imposingly across the stage guided by three puppeteers (the only cast present onstage throughout) the mind conjures the metal from his cardboard form, impressive in its simplicity. It’s capability of rousing genuine emotion must be attributed to the dexterous puppeteers, with just a slow turn of the head, the upturn of a finger or a flicker of his glowing eyes the Iron Man lives. The puppets combine with child-like stop animation projections and a beautifully pitched and paced voice over from Nima Taleghani, the effect of which is riveting and yet soothing, rather like opening a giant picture book and seeing the characters tumbling out of the page.

In this streamlined 50 minute version, we see the Iron Man come from ‘out of nowhere’ and scare the wits out of the local townspeople, as he munches on all the metal he can muster and leaves frustrated farmers in his wake, who vow to make sure he doesn’t return. What never fails to impress me in Hughes’ writing, and which this production carries though very well, is the addressing of ‘adult’ issues such as encountering the ‘other’, tolerance, collaboration and empathy, in an accessible way. Once the townspeople learn how to look after the Iron Man, he helps them in return, standing as the earth’s champion in their battle with the space-bat-angel-dragon.

Robins casts his spell of wonder over children and adults alike with cardboard boxes, toy cars, torches and dolls houses. Sometimes this is all that is needed, often, it seems, the attention spans and imaginations of children and adults alike are better for it.

Photo credit: Hugo Glendinning
Photo credit: Hugo Glendinning

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