Review: The Boy Who Cried Wolf, Sheffield Crucible, Studio

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We all know what happened to the ghastly Matilda, who told such frightful lies for sheer amusement and who, when true tragedy occurred, was shunned by those people who could have rescued her.

They thought that she was still fibbing. The boy who cried “wolf” pre-dates Hillaire Belloc’s cautionary fable about the fictional Matilda, probably by many centuries – it’s the tale about a young goatherd who, bored to death with having to look after his flock, invented the threat of a wolf, and told yarns about his own valour in beating off the threat from the forest. Sadly, he tries it on again, and again….and the result is cautionary.

That master story-teller Mike Kenny gives a new twist to the old legend, and makes it almost contemporary. We are somewhere in Scandinavia, and old Grandfather is getting a few aches and anno Domini pains, so it falls to his grandson Silas, a rather moody and petulant boy, to be sent out to keep an eye on the family sheep in his stead. Silas, to enliven the dullness of the upper slopes, cries “Wolf”, and the villagers believe the lad. At first. And then, of course, their faith in him begins to ebb away, when he tries the lark on once more.

Since this engaging little entertainment is aimed at a younger audience, Kenny doesn’t carry through to the conclusion of the original – that the boy ends up being eaten by the wolf-pack. That would be too gruesome to contemplate. But he does offer a moral to his plot, and that is, quite simply, that one would be far off better telling the truth, even if that does inevitably lead to verbal chastisement. Director Wendy Harris asks her three players, Matthew Hamper, Sally Ann Staunton and Thomas Edward-Bennett, to play all the human characters, as well as impersonating the sheep, and implying the threat of the dastardly wolves. They make the whole process look so effortless, bringing out not only the message, but also the simple good humour. There’s dance, mime, music, and a lively score from Dominic Sales. Kelly Jago offers a set that can be the cosy home of Silas and his elders, or the lower slopes of the nearby mountain. Kenny’s clever way with young audiences keeps attention fully on the action. One of our most sure-footed and inventive dramatists and the always-watchable Tutti Frutti company, alongside the York Theatre Royal. It helps that the show runs for just under an hour, so there is no opportunity for impatient wriggly-bottoms to develop. As an introduction to theatre it can’t be bettered. It’s beautifully paced, performed with a sincerity that doesn’t patronise. To Jan 4.