For our final trip of the year to Half Moon Theatre we saw Emily Rising. Originally a radio play by Dan Rebellato, this acclaimed production from puppetry specialists Little Angel Theatre and Goblin Theatre brings the story to the stage for ages 7-11. It’s great to see a puppet show aimed at this age group, as many cater to the preschool market. It’s also refreshing to see a story on stage that may resonate with children who do not often see themselves represented on the stage.
The story centres around 10 year old Emily, who lives with her Mum and little brother, Robbie in an Islington flat. Her parents are divorced but Dad comes round regularly. One morning Emily wakes up and finds that her feet don’t touch the ground. And despite her doctor’s diagnosis that it will all settle down after an aspirin, she just keeps getting higher. Soon Emily is tethered to the house to stop her floating away, which leads to suspicion from social services and eventually the aid of a helicopter pilot. But none of them can bring her back down to the ground.
It’s a really well executed production, which makes use of some stunning puppetry, perhaps the most entertaining of which from an adult perspective is the bureaucratic social worker comprised of a clipboard and reams of paper. This element of the story was the one thing that made us wince when it first arose, and we did feel that it would have been useful to have included a trigger warning. It’s great to see children’s shows incorporating these sorts of characters, but it would have been nice to have a heads up. To be honest, the jobsworth social worker is more of a character that resonated with us as adults, as the munchkins’ own experience of having a social worker was largely positive. (Mostly he came around and wound them up like a fun uncle, then disappeared again!) But we can imagine this may not be the case for all children watching. The divorce plot may also be a hard watch for some children, but it may well be a useful conversation-starter.
This is the best thing about Emily Rising. There are so many different elements in this play that provide opportunities for opening up a dialogue about difficult issues. It doesn’t sugar-coat the issues, nor does it finish with a traditional happy ending. In fact, the ending is distinctly ambiguous, allowing audiences to reach their own conclusions. Mummy and Mrs Mummy actually spent the entire journey home deliberating what the message of the story was, before settling on the conclusion that it is open to interpretation. It could be seen as a metaphor for growing up, with parents having to loosen the kite strings as their children become independent. We felt that the ending also lent itself to a darker interpretation, with Emily’s parents having to let go of her permanently. Either way, there is a clear theme of coming to accept an inability to control what happens in your life and things not always having an explanation.
The age rating felt appropriate to us. Both munchkins enjoyed the show, and were able to discuss some of the issues afterwards (with some prompting). Younger children would probably not take as much from it. The basic plot is very easy to follow, but the set and puppet design is not really geared towards younger children. There is also a lack of music, which did make it feel quite slow in places.
Overall, Emily Rising is a refreshingly thought-provoking piece of theatre which raises difficult issues in a sensitive and accessible way for young audiences. Well worth a watch the next time it comes out on tour.
RATING: Raindrops, Whiskers, Kettles and Mittens (aka 4 out of 5 of my favourite things).
Emily Rising has just finished a national tour. We saw it at Half Moon Theatre on 22 November 2019.