The Emperor’s New Clothes

Derby Theatre


This Easter Holiday production continues the tradition of high-quality family shows at Derby. With the pantomime season blighted by the impact of covid, it is an opportunity to draw the whole family to the joys of the stage once again. It is an opportunity joyfully seized by the Hiccup theatre company.

The story is the traditional, familiar one, parents will not be disappointed. But it is given a 21st Century reboot to recast it as an exercise in fake news. Writer and Director Sarah Brigham does a brilliant job in creating a waspish script that stays faithful to the original storyline, and engages with a contemporary political message for adults, post Trump , while being accessible to children, without patronising them.

British Sign language is an integral part of the production without being in any way obtrusive, and indeed frames a number of the jokes, with a caption screen further assisting the hard of hearing. The script is uncannily contemporaneous at a time when Russia conducts special military operations not wars, and even all Prime Ministers are not wonderful, a line which drew the biggest laugh of the evening.

The stage, courtesy of set designer Rachana Jadhav, featuring the Emperor's Palace is bright, brash and appealing, as are the pantomime style costumes, courtesy of Tim Heywood. The multi-talented cast act, sing and play instruments on stage adding vibrancy, immediacy, brio and pizzaz to the performance. Emperor Ivan Stott composes and leads the music.

Stott is outstanding as the Emperor, pompous, rumbustious and frail, with sassy Becky Barry wonderful as his sidekick advisor, offering a delightfully conflicted combination of Dominic Cummings and Carrie Johnson, constantly in fear of a P&O style sacking.

Double acts are great fun, but hard to pull off, yet charlatan tailors Raffie Julien, and Ines Sampaio, do just that as Weft and Warp. Brooklyn Melvin plays the not so dim Bobbin in the manner of a Shakespearean Fool, Rishi Manuel’s musicianship is essential as Jumble.

A full house, packed with children, loved every minute. The running time of around seventy five minutes, with no interval was just right, keeping the children engaged and in their seats with minimal toilet visits! The bright music felt integral to the show, not an excuse to fill a few minutes, the audience never missed a chance to clap or sing along.

Puppet maker John Barber produces a marvellous mini Emperor and saves both Ivan Stott's blushes for the nude scene, and the need for Sarah Brigham to employ an intimacy director!

The first thing I did when I returned from the theatre was to ring up a friend with a hard of hearing child to make sure she bought tickets. Anyone who enjoys high quality family entertainment with an up to the minute edge should not miss this show which runs to the 16th April.

Gary Longden


Index page Derby Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre