REVIEW: THE TERRIBLE INFANTS (Wilton’s Music Hall) ★★★★★

A tumbling, twirling ragtag band of storytellers bustles into Wilton’s Music Hall this autumn with The Terrible Infants, a fantastical anthology of twisted tales. A show filled to the brim with moments of sparkling irreverence and charming caricature, it is a feast of masterful puppetry, live music and beautifully crafted poetry. Spinning together seven original stories, the cast of five scrabble about the dark, smokey stage, grappling to take charge of the storybook and delve into the fairytales, revelling in the misfortune of the characters.

Tilly likes telling tall tales. She makes up incredible stories to get out of trouble, without considering their consequences. That is until a particularly tall tale takes on a life of its own! Tumb is a hungry little boy, perpetually torn between his grumbling stomach and his mother’s strict diet plan. We meet Mingus, a boy so smelly he has to move out of his house, and Finbar who wishes he was a fish. Bea is so chatty, everyone avoids her, Thingummyboy is so quiet and small that nobody notices him and little Linena is a girl made of rags, desperate for a better life.

The Terrible Infants is a masterclass in storytelling. Using a mix of poetry and nonsense words, its lilting script is reminiscent of the well-loved stories of Dr. Seuss. The music swells, performed live for the most part, filling the space with a rich noise and pushing the show from story to story. It swoops from jovial, booming tunes to rather sinister strains before gliding into ethereal harmonies that soar ahead and cascade from the walls. The songs are catchy too; with more than a few audience members leaving the auditorium humming one of the ditties. Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the show is the use of props and puppetry. The style and performance of the puppets, which interestingly take centre stage in all of the stories, is utterly enchanting. Their faces and bodies are both beautiful and grotesque; with distorted features and large, staring eyes, often drawing gasps from the audience when first revealed.

While the overall show is undeniably a breaktaking triumph, there are some simply exquisite moments dotted throughout. When Finbar meets a mermaid on the shore and is finally granted his wish of living beneath the waves, the stage glitters and gleams with dappled light and shimmering waves. The joy and playfulness between Finbar and a rather wilful bubble is really endearing. Another highlight comes when little Linena stitches herself a new body and dances with unbridled glee. Bea’s story, in which her never-ending chatter attracts the attention of a hive of bees, feels like a quintessential fable. The tale of this hilariously flawed character is also narrated by none other than Dame Judi Dench. Need I say more?

The cast of five works together wonderfully. Beautifully fronted by Oliver Lansley, they careen about the stage with childish excitement, each given their moment to shine. While Serena Manteghi and Richard Booth are primarily centre stage, lending their talents to the narration and puppeteering, the more nuanced moments of the show are delivered by Christo Squier and Rebecca Bainbridge, whose heavenly musical prowess and shared glances of exasperation are especially enjoyable.

A wildly entertaining production that is both dark yet charming and sprinkled with quirky lessons of morality, The Terrible Infants is full of delights. If there is one show you see this month, make it this one!

Reviewed by Alex Foott
Photo: Rah Petherbridge