The Famous Five – Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy the dog – are packing up Kirrin Cottage as they are moving away. However, George (never Georgina!) doesn’t want to leave; after all, Kirrin is the site of so many of their adventures, including their very first. The Five then reminisce about the summer when they first met each other, in a faithful authorised adaptation of the first book Five on a Treasure Island by Enid Blyton.
The book was first published in 1942, and has remained a firm favourite for children ever since – including me – so I was a little worried that this official adaptation might have been modernised, something I think rarely works well. But in fact all the familiar elements are there, including the never-ending ginger beer, the gun-toting baddies and the happy ending. Yet this in itself creates a new problem. Blyton’s books were considered simplistic and repetitive even when they were written, and children’s fiction has advanced a great deal over the decades. Therefore, the recommended age has dropped considerably, and it can be difficult to hold such a young audience's attention for the running time.
Luckily, there is plenty of interaction to help hold their interest. As we enter, the characters run up to the children, introduce themselves and ask for help finding a missing suitcase. Children are called upon to assist the Five quite a bit, including when the set needs to be changed into a beach and when the blue cloth sea needs to be moved around to create the waves. One of the most entertaining moments came when the Five were caught in a storm, and the children enthusiastically soaked the cast with provided water guns.
The Famous Five are played by four adult actors pretending to be children, while a slightly scruffy puppet is used for Timmy. The actors are enthusiastic and never talk down to the children in the audience, keeping the whole production immersive for their younger viewers. In keeping with the children’s perspective, the adults in the play are represented by various props – such as a hat and glasses for Uncle Quentin. Apart from required exposition, the adults' talk is restricted to one word being repeated ("science, science" for Uncle Quentin, "’ere, ‘ere" for the baddies), an imaginative and fun approach which keeps the focus on the children and their world.
The show isn’t going to create any new adult fans of Blyton – it’s far too twee for that – but if you are nostalgic for The Famous Five then there is plenty to enjoy. It is particularly recommended for young children, as there are plenty of interactions to keep them entertained.