Guadin's performance relies entirely on her physicality. She demonstrates fluidity and dexterity to communicate Shu’s nature and is enjoyable to watch. Despite this, the fact that Shu doesn’t speak and has her face covered by her costume creates too many barriers to connection for the children. Molly and a few older children speak to Shu but are put off when they realise that she cannot hear them or rather will not respond. These children wanted more interaction with Shu and a sense of being invited into the world rather than just observing.
Coddington and Baker both portray their clown-like characters with skill. They hold our focus and Molly cranes her head to spy them when they hide from sight. When Shu manages to tie herself up in knots, quite literally, the clowns come to her rescue. This interaction is lovely and more of this direct contact between Shu and the clowns could be included to add energy to the show. The clowns mainly interact with Shu by manipulating the inanimate objects in the space. Unfortunately the objects don’t look or move interestingly enough to keep my attention. Instead I am drawn to the clowns themselves because of their ability to express emotion with their faces. This begs the question: what is added by the puppetry?
The set which Shu explores is made up of furniture and stationery, which realistically conveys the office setting. Some interesting set pieces that the children respond enthusiastically to include a drawer which burps out balloons and a typewriter that sounds like a turn table. Molly loves being able to read the word “TOY” written on a desk. Perhaps more visual elements such as this could be used to engage the older children.
Along with the set, the lighting design of Shu's Song accentuates the moments of theatrical magic. As the house lights drop, shadows are cast by the set pieces. The children who notice this respond with glee. There are also light-up panels in some of the set pieces which are operated to change with the music. This effect adds texture and a fantastical element to the otherwise naturalistic set.
The sound design is very well crafted. However, sometimes the emotion conveyed by the music feels too ambiguous for young viewers and adds to the audience’s sense of disconnection from Shu’s character. I was also disappointed that there we’re no vocals in the sound design because this is an easy way to communicate story elements to children.
Although Shu is a likeable lead, at times her journey loses the attention of audience members including Molly and I. The fourth wall is not broken which means the audience has to work harder to read what her motivations and responses are. And Because the narrative arcs are subtle and the pace slows in the middle of the show in order to stay engaged we are required to maintain considerable focus on what Shu is doing.
The intention of Shu’s Song is to introduce children to the wonder of live story-telling and it will. It is charming and skill-fully rendered. A few adjustments to how the children are invited into Shu’s world would make the strong narrative, design and performance vision of the team fully realised for younger viewers.
Shu’s Song is on at Hannah Playhouse until the 30th of April at 10am.