Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings


The Velveteen Rabbit

Hall Green Youth Theatre


We all have favourite toys, even those in their autumn years can remember the pedal car that won Le Mans or the teddy that kept away a dark night’s demons, perhaps it was the train that was never late or the doll that you fed and stopped crying.

New toys became the latest favourite, at least for a while, but the old friends were always there, always loved, ready and waiting to return to favour.

We know what we thought of our toys, how we loved them and cherished them, but what did our toys think of us . . . indeed what did our toys think at all.

And that is a question this young cast has tried to answer in what is very much their own production, the cast having provided the concept and ideas, workshopped it and even selected and sorted the costumes.

Performing tried and tested plays with measured exits and entrances, revised and honed scripts is one thing, starting with a blank sheet of paper and an empty stage is another, so full marks for even attempting it let alone making it work.

The rabbit in question is Chloe Lees, given as a birthday present to a young girl, played by Bella Haycock, with the tale narrated by Olivia Cocks, who has suffered a broken foot but soldiered on from the side of the studio stage.

The rabbit, with no name, relegates the other toys, past favourites, to the toy box with their leader, or at least most sensible, being the wooden tiger, roared gently by Charlotte Andrews-Miller. Then there is the rather superior, dance diva of a ballerina, with Laila Hussain tutu special to mix with the mere . . . ordinary toys.

Ellie Buckingham is the tug boat, sailing around the fringes of the group while Willow Cleaver is that old standby, the teddy bear.

When it comes to the oldest toy then there is a dilemma. The T-Rex played under a green dinosaur head by Thomas John, claims to be 65 million years old, which might be a slight exaggeration, while the oldest in the toy box seems to be the ancient skin horse, played, just about, when he can catch his breath and doesn’t have to move so much, by Harris Khan. The horse is a real doom and gloom merchant who has seen it all, done it all, and has had enough of . . . whatever it is what toys have.

rab 2


Security is provided by the toy soldiers, Phoebe Smith, Samantha Cunningham-Elsby and Ellie Vaughan. They march around declaring they have a job to do, although none of them seem to know what it is, but they know they have to do it.

And galloping around the stage like a Jack Russell with fleas is the Clockwork Mouse in the non-stop shape of Noah Khan, who by the strangest of coincidences is the brother of Harris, he of the hardly managing to make it on stage, can I sit down now please, moaning, geriatric skin horse.

The clockwork mouse’s spring must have been the size of Berlin, where it was built, or at least that’s where the relentless, restless rodent claimed it was manufactured, as the mouse never stopped moving or talking from beginning to end in a wonderfully animated performance. Just watching him will leave you in need of a lie down!

Then there are the grown ups with Jon Peach as dad and Matilda Walker as mum and Aine Crehan weighs in as the gardener – who must be avoided at all costs - if you are a rabbit, that is - a real one, of course, not a toy one. Ellie Vaughan and Thomas John, soldier and dinosaur, double up as the nose twitching, leaping rabbits, wary of being caught and eaten by the gardener.

And that is the way of the world . . . until the girl falls ill and the doctor in the shape of a top hatted, frock coated Renee Davis arrives, looking like a doctor who doubles up as an undertaker, which I suppose would save time if the worst comes to the worst.

The doc declares a case of Scarlet Fever and demands all bedding, clothes and toys be burned to reduce the chance of infection.

Before antibiotics Scarlet Fever was a feared killer with around 20 per cent mortality and burning anything that a victim had touched or been near, a crude attempt at control.

So, with toys about to take their final curtain, up steps Raya Silva as the Toy Fairy, or perhaps more rabbit fairy as the rest of the toy box she left to their grate . . . sorry, fate.

With a wave of her wand, toy rabbit becomes a real rabbit, which escapes the flames, and the girl gets a new basket of toys including a new rabbit . . . and the cycle starts again.

The cast look at how favourite toys can become real in the mind of their owners and how tatty fur and missing eyes merely add to the appeal of old favourites.

The play had help from four devisers, all recent graduates of the youth theatre in Chloe Delpino, Joseph Kilker, Sammy Lees and Joel Patel.

The young cast also had Maisie-Leigh Jones as stage manager and assistant set designer as well as dealing with wardrobe along with ASM Phoebe O’Reilly and Molly Scott.

Director Richard Woodward and Roy Palmer turned the ideas into a workable script with Richard also adding music and a past youth theatre graduate, Daniel Robert Beaton responsible for set and lighting – operated by Isla McCarrick.

The result is an interesting production, with the cast telling stories and creating situations they have developed themselves along a theatrical learning curve. To 20-04-24.

Roger Clarke


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