Sam Buitekant as The Thing and Sophie Alice as Emily Brown

Emily Brown and the Thing

Patrick Studio

Birmingham Hippodrome


What a delightful children’s show for the Christmas holidays. It’s clever, colourful, deceptively simple and a gentle masterclass in the art of storytelling with a production which works well on different levels.

I had my three-year-old and seven-year-old grandchildren with me and they both enjoyed it with different favourite parts – and there were even a couple of moments which amused just the adults.

It provides a solid alternative to panto, quieter and less spectacular, which some children may prefer, after all it is shorter, just under an hour, is far less noisy and raucous, and let’s be honest, for some families, panto is out of their reach financially.

Tall Stories have adapted the 2008 book by Cressida Cowell and Neal Layton into a wonderful three hander with Sophie Alice, full of charm, as Emily Brown, Sam Buitekant as The Thing, and everything else, and Jordan Turner as a remarkably cheerful Stanley the rabbit.

It opens with a Sam and Jordan getting ready for bed, silly jokes and actions acting as a sort of warm up for the main story which starts when Emily tells them to keep quiet so she can sleep.

Emily 2

Emily with Stanley the Rabbit


There was one lovely moment in the Press show when Sam declares he can’t get to sleep without a bedtime story and a little girl in the audience, helpfully shouts: “I’ve got one”.

At last the trio settle down, but the quiet wasn’t going to last though, broken by the sobbing of a . . . well . . . a thing, or in this case, The Thing, which sort of looks like an owl on a bad hair day.

The Thing can’t sleep because first he needs his cuddly, square comforter which has been dropped in the dark and scary wood, then it is his milk, which has to come from the wild and whirling wastes and finally his magic green medicine from the wily witch’s cavern.

Emily and Stanley take on the quest of finding the objects and along the way we meet a Troll, who isn’t such a bad chap really, a lonely polar bear and a wayward witch who has lost the power of magic.

Every character in this collection being Sam, with some lovely performances, particularly the witch.

Into the mix are thrown puppets or rather dolls, and there is no clever sleight of hand. They are just dolls, held by blokes, helping to tell the stories, and that is all you need – youngsters will fill the rest in themselves. It’s all down to imagination and children have it in spades – just watch the worlds they create with the most unlikely objects when they are playing.

Finally, The Thing has nothing left to prevent him sleeping . . . except the real reason. It is a scenario familiar to any parent, the level of prevarication a youngster can manage at bedtime before parental patience finally runs out is infinite – sometimes it is a child just not wanting to go to bed, sometimes it is fear - fear of the dark, fear of being alone or even just fear of the unknown.

And The Thing’s real reason – well if you have read the book you will know, if not . . . you will have to go to the Hippodrome to find out.

It is a beautifully acted production, with some nice harmony singing incidentally, on a simple yet remarkably flexible setting of a cartoony house from Isla Shaw. It is an uncomplicated tale, directed by Olivia Jacobs, simply and imaginatively told with the sure touch that has become the hallmark of productions from the ever-reliable Tall Stories, the company behind The Snow Dragon last year and numerous other children’s shows that have been seen around the Midlands.

This production will be heading off to New York and a North American tour next year, but the story is being told first, here in Birmingham, and it all adds up to a lovely festive treat for families. It will charm and enthral children of all ages. To 06-01-19.

Roger Clarke


Family offer: Up to three children with one adult or two adults and two children for £32, available on all performances.

Or add an additional two family/friends (adults or children) for £36. Valid on Fri 28 Dec – Sun 6 Jan performances. Not available to buy online. Please call Ticket Sales on 0844 338 5000 (calls cost 4.5p per min plus access charge) or visit the Box Office in person to book. 

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