Kika’s Birthday – at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond

A spellbound 50 minutes, and cake, for imaginative 3-6 year olds

Danyah Miller in Kika's Birthday

Ace storyteller Danyah Miller of Wizard Presents returns to the Orange Tree to conjure up a field-mouse-size birthday party which needs to be pulled off in the face of dangerous winds and snow, an anxious journey, surviving the seasons and the presence of a large, orange cat. A cake must be mixed and baked, the room decorated and the invitations sent, while an audience of mini partygoers is kept rapt on the seats and cushions surrounding the stage.

Some may remember her perfomance of Michael Morpurgo’s “I Believe in Unicorns” at the Orange Tree two Christmases ago. And once again this is no raucous, “it’s behind you!” pantomiming with over-excited, over-sugared children.

It’s a sophisticated mix of movement, music , dance, mime, puppetry – and cake making ¬– that must test every sinew of the actress. It results in small children, with eyes as round as saucers, unconsciously leaning into their parents and grandparents sides, as the brave mice (in reality no more than piping tubes or flour bags but, in imagination, characters ranging from the bright and bouncy to to downright timorous !) face down their fears in order to have a good time. It’s fascinatingly skilful to watch.

All the children’s senses are engaged, with balloons around the room to pick up and touch and even the aroma of a cake cooking in the oven. My three-year old co-critic thought the big parcel on the stage looked “really exciting”, he’s also probably not aware of clutching my skirt rather tightly when the “cat” (an orange balloon tail and a sieve for a face) contemplated a nice meal of mouse. Meanwhile my rather more sophisticated 6-year-old colleague thought the set looked “very joyful”. And so it did with its bunting and flowers. Any criticisms from these seasoned theatre goers? Well they (and I) both thought it became a bit less gripping just towards the end, and autumn came around.

A happy ending, of course, but by then they were more interested in the chocolate cake (only a mouseful each ¬and with healthy satsuma segement option) being offered on the way out. A great little outing for an age group that’s brimming with imagination but which often doesn’t get top-quality theatre setting it alight

Liz Vercoe

December 24, 2017