The Selfish Giant – Bristol 24/7

Bristol 24/7 reviews The Selfish Giant at Bristol Old Vic in April 2019.

Based on the original story by Oscar Wilde, The Selfish Giant has been adapted for the stage by Bristol companies Soap Soup Theatre and Tessa Bide Productions. The tale – of a giant who builds a wall around her beautiful garden to keep the children from playing in it – is reimagined using puppetry, physical comedy and music.

This unlikely friendship between a giant and a girl, both of whom feel like they ‘don’t quite fit in’, is imaginatively retold with simplicity and care by Rosamund Hine and Tessa Bide. The clarity of their storytelling as they breathe life into each of the characters is a delight to watch. The space is a constant buzz of magic with their energy – and the physical comedy is a hit too, as chuckles ripple across the audience throughout.

The design on this production is truly beautiful. The versatile set is adorned with items of clothing and natural textiles that transform from foliage to costume. The seasons come and go and walls are built and razed to the ground as if by magic. The joyous way in which performers and puppets alike interact with the space enables the narrative to play with scale and give the space a playful energy.

The journey of the piece has been carefully crafted with clever shifts in tempo and beautiful underscoring from composer Matt Huxley. By turns energetic and poignant, it keeps the 3+ audience engaged throughout the hour-long performance.

This gentle tale is easily relatable for the audience as the world to the small is full of giants and walls to keep you away from things you really shouldn’t be playing on! The Weston Studio comes alive with champions for Poppy and rousing chants to wake Grinter the giant. But it’s the excited surge onto the stage to meet the puppets after the show that truly marks the success of this show.

The Selfish Giant is beautifully crafted by these two leading family theatre experts. A perfect way to occupy young minds this Easter.

The Selfish Giant – Nappy Valley

Nappy Valley reviews The Selfish Giant at Omnibus Theatre in December 2018.

What an enchanting place to hold such an enchanting play! Last Saturday, my family and I embarked on our first play of the festive season at Omnibus Theatre in Clapham Common. The last time I was in this place it was full of books (and still a library). This time round, it was transformed into an enchanted garden through an adaptation of one of the most endearing stories to have, probably, graced the shelves of the former library.

Tessa Bide Productions and Soap Soup Theatre have brought to life Oscar Wilde’s short story, The Selfish Giant in an intimate, simple and powerful performance using thoughtful and impactful storytelling and puppetry techniques.

They tell the story of Grinter, the giant who isolates herself behind high walls in her wonderful garden. One day, the kids, tired of their hard roads and grey rooftops climb into her garden to play and one little girl in particular, Poppy, thaws out the Giant’s selfish heart.

This is a beautiful tale of friendship and belonging, skilfully told through the characters, their puppets and the music.

To be honest, I’m not sure if I got more joy from watching the play or from watching my seven year old watching the play. It was so heartwarming to see him so absorbed by the story. He was literally on the edge of his seat for most of it.

I was initially worried that he might get bored in a play that doesn’t involve a panto style interactive cast and a revolving set with bells and whistles, but he loved it. He understood the subtleties, he felt the joy of the kids, the changing of the seasons and the kindness inside the giant. I have to say I was really proud of him and really impressed by the play.

Tessa Bide Productions and Soap Soup Theatre don’t underestimate kids, and I love that. I never thought my seven year old boy would be so attune to a giant and her little friend, Poppy.

And as a final touch to our magical afternoon, the actors came out at the end of the show for a Q&A session and a chance for the kids to meet the puppets. We couldn’t really ask for much more.

The Selfish Giant – Curious Mum

Curious Mum reviews The Selfish Giant at Omnibus Theatre in December 2018.

From the collaboration of the critically acclaimed Tessa Bide Productions and Soap Soup Theatre comes this cleverly and creatively imagined adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s Selfish Giant.

A giant named Grinter has barred children from her winter-entombed garden with an enormous, impenetrable wall. But wait – Poppy, a green-fingered little girl, is trapped in the giant’s garden! And so begins this tale of unexpected friendship. Poppy manages to survive the implacable winter by making her home in a large fungus. Then one day Grinter discovers Poppy tending to a lone snowbell in the garden, and their unlikely friendship unfolds as spring blossoms.

The telling of the story moves seamlessly between the actors, puppets, music and props so that the audience becomes entirely caught up in the narrative and vested in the outcome. It helps that the puppets, most notably Grinter (with her shock of red hair), are intriguing replicas of the actors. Their movements and faces are stirringly life-like, and Poppy’s puppet even grows with her throughout her time in the garden! Nature herself is personified by two actors, who chat humorously, and adorn the set with their own clothes as the seasons change. A green floral skirt is swapped for a white cardigan and blouse in a pleasing visual representation of the passing of time.

An unexpectedly dramatic and heart rending scene comes after Grinter evicts Poppy from her garden, with her pain at the loss of her friend exemplified by the puppet Grinter staggering across a wind and snow-swept terrain to haunting music. It left even the adults in the audience taken aback by the powerful effect of the scene.

This is an intricate production which surprises with many evocative moments, which is no mean feat when performing with puppets! Its innate visual appeal makes it both a performance for very little ones and for older children in whose minds and imaginations the beauty of this play will remain for a long time to come.

The Selfish Giant – Children’s Theatre Reviews

Children’s Theatre Review reviews The Selfish Giant at Omnibus Theatre in December 2018.

Christmas has the power to bring about personal transformation; the season of goodwill can thaw even the most miserly of hearts – just ask Scrooge or the Grinch. Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant has this Christmas miracle at its heart: it’s the tale of Grinter the giant whose unwillingness to share her beautiful garden casts it into a perpetual winter, a spell that can only be broken by changing her grumpy ways.

In Tessa Bide Productions and Soap Soup Theatre’s adaptation, the giant’s garden is created from a series of washing lines, Spring hanging its flower-print dress and other colourful clothes out to dry, to be taken down and tidied away by Winter. These sturdy airers double as a climbing frame, gleefully explored by the children who sneak into the giant’s backyard to climb the trees and swing from the hanging vines. It’s a beautiful design with a very clever concept, though at times the stunning set and imagery struggle to communicate the narrative singlehandedly – at first, for instance, I mistook the giant’s actions as tearing the garden down rather than building a wall.

Tessa Bide and Tomasin Cuthbert perform and puppeteer all of the characters, the show playing with perspective and size throughout. The brave, sweet Poppy is most often a tiny puppet (Tessa Bide) loomed over by Cuthbert as the irritable giant. At one point, however, Cuthbert is both puppeteer and stage, animating the Grinter and Poppy puppets on a wicker frame tied around her waist. Filled with moments like these, intricate puppets and an interesting design, The Selfish Giant is simply lovely to look at.

Beyond visuals, The Selfish Giant is a fairytale that feels very relevant despite being 130 years old. There is, of course, a nod towards environmentalism – the characters are threatened by changing seasons, an issue quelled – in Omnibus’s production – in part by being kinder to and more aware of nature and its needs. But perhaps even more pertinent to 2018 is Grinter, a landowner whose selfishness lies in her insistence on sovereignty, who builds an unnecessary wall, and enforces a meaningless border to keep children out. In the end, its young people who change things for the better. The Selfish Giant really is a story for our times.

Perfect – The Guardian ★★★★

The Guardian reviews Perfect at Omnibus Theatre in May 2018.

Adam Fuller directs a skilful adaptation of the children’s book about a boy whose sibling is born with a disability.

Tessa Bide Productions have devised a finely calibrated family show, based on the thoughtful children’s book Perfect, written by Nicola Davies and lit up by Cathy Fisher’s wistful illustrations. Gentle when it needs to be but committed to exploring complicated themes, Perfect is about a boy who struggles with his emotions when he discovers that his much longed-for sibling has been born with a disability.

Director and dramaturg Adam Fuller has cleverly extended the early stages of the story to encourage the audience to share the boy’s impatient excitement about the birth. Eline Hallem plays the boy and is uncannily convincing as she races about with the gangly enthusiasm of a kid not yet used to his body. She interacts easily with the audience and asks them to share stories about their siblings. The children’s answers are incorporated into the script, their stories folded into the fabric of the show.

Luned Gwawr Evans’s design feels warm and comforting: a cluster of pastel homes, dappled with sunlight, surrounds the stage. A large projection screen is filled with natural images inspired by Davies’s illustrations: fluffy clouds, lush grass swaying in the wind, tiny swifts fleeing the nest.

When the baby is brought home by the mother (Tessa Bide, loving but slightly adrift in her sorrow), the boy runs away. He comes across an injured swift, represented by an exquisitely crafted puppet, controlled by Bide with emotion etched across her face. Layers of empathy build.

Perfect does not shy away from how a family’s excitement for the future is suddenly muddied by confusion and fear. The exceptionally engaged young audience is testament to an engrossing show that is full of compassion and makes siblings of us all.

Perfect – On The Beat

On The Beat reviews Perfect at the Wardrobe Theatre in June 2018

If I had to sum up Perfect in one word it would simply be that: perfect. Dealing with quite a delicate subject matter, the production delivered its message flawlessly for a young audience. An adaptation of the book of the same title by Nicola Davies, we follow the story of a young boy discovering he’s going to have a little sister. His excitement at the prospect of having a life-long best friend is heart-warming, overwhelming and quite beautiful to watch. But the playmate he imagined isn’t exactly like the reality, as he discovers his sister is born with a disability.

We see his journey from shock and disappointment to understanding and acceptance.  Learning with him, he teaches us about his favourite bird: the swift. We watch him find one injured and believed him to be as perfect as any other. In this moment, we see him realise his unconditional love for his sister despite her disability.

One of the most poignant things about this production is the names, or more so that lack thereof. No character has a name; we don’t even learn what disability the baby has. There are no labels, no classifications, no categorisation of the characters. We are unable to bring unconscious bias or prejudge them and unable to imagine them as anyone but possibly ourselves. This seems especially significant for introducing the subject of disability to a young audience, “what can’t she do daddy?” the young girl in front of me asked her dad. Clearly showing that if some children didn’t quite understand, it still opens up the conversation of disability.

The reason the message was delivered so beautifully by Tessa Bide Productions was because of the astounding performances from the actors. Tessa Bide’s soothing performance of the caring and gentle mother juxtaposed the energetic and animated character of the young boy, embodied by Eline Hallem. Their interaction with the audience was seamless, delving in amongst us, we were constantly involved. The actors even stayed behind after the performance to make origami swifts with the children, an endearing touch to the show. Hallem and the boy were indivisible. She became him and captured the beauty of children’s wonder, as he fixated on the magical birds that nested by his house.

The stunning design and animation helped bring the story to life. It gave us a window into the boys’ imagination, as we see how he hopes to play with his future sibling and how he imagines flying beside his favourite birds. The imagery payed tribute to the incredible illustrations of the book by Cathy Fisher, the talent shown in every inch of this performance was astronomical.

For this production the company worked with Sibs, a UK charity that supports siblings of disabled people with some of the challenges they face in their family lives. They help children have positive relationships with their disabled brothers and sisters and to be able to choose the role they pay in future care and support.

​Not only does this production introduce the subject of disability to children, it reminds adults about the innocence of childhood and the acceptance of all.

Perfect – Children’s Theatre Reviews

Children’s Theatre Reviews review Perfect at The Lyric Hammersmith in April 2018.

Perfect, based on the book by Nicola Davies and Cathy Fisher, is gorgeous. The adaptation not only takes visual inspiration from the text’s beautiful illustrations, but from their function too. Author Nicola Davies said of the book that “so much of the emotion and meaning of the narrative must be carried in the pictures, in the faces and body language of the people and in the swifts.” It’s a story full of emotion – the expectation and excitement, followed by grief and anger, of a young boy as he meets his disabled baby sister for the first time – and full of swifts – he’s fascinated with the birds that nest in his roof, whose lives swoop into his own. Much like the images on the book’s pages are left to convey so much, it is up to the audience to interpret the movement and faces of performers Tessa Bide and Eline Hallem, in a script unafraid of pauses, unfinished sentences and unspoken words.

Adam Fuller’s direction, Matt Huxley’s music, Joe ​Stathers’ lighting and projection, and Luned Gwawr Evans’s design immerse us in the dreamy world of Cathy Fisher’s illustrations. Fisher originally used pastels, but the set seems to utilise watercolour, with everything sort of bleeding into each other – the splashy-fronted houses into the multi-coloured dawn – capturing the ways nature and domestic life run into one another, just as the swifts’ and the sister’s stories intersect. Animations of sky, space, street and garden make for a vivid backdrop on a semi-circular screen, which is also used for some stunning shadow theatre, as the little boy dreams of the swordfights, races and cartwheels he’ll share with his sister once she’s born.

I still haven’t made my mind up about the interactive element, which, rather than being embedded into the show’s fabric, seems cut from a different cloth. It pulls us out of the pastel world and back into the auditorium, though perhaps as an only child the little boy, who spends a lot of time alone, can’t help but chat to the audience.

Moving, gentle and thoughtful: Perfect is sophisticated and sensitive in its storytelling, exquisite in its design and, best of all, really trusts its young audience.

A Strange New Space – Primary Times

A Strange New Space at Circomedia April 2017. Paul Blakemore photography.

Primary Times review A Strange New Space at Summerhall during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2017. 

Amira is space-obsessed and trying to finding her way around life and journey as a refugee. Like every child, she creates a world of adventure, wanderlust and humour in her imagination, and can be a child’s best friend when things are troubling them. Amira uses puppets, a cardboard box, lights and everything a child could possibly use in imaginative play. Aiden followed Amira’s journey and immediately understood what the show was about on its basic level. He could see how Amira was feeling: happy, sad, scared, silly, lonely and could identify with it. There is an awful lot of humour in the show which had the children laughing lots. The show is not obviously about refugee issues to children but it was more about connecting with children and to the basic feelings and emotions children have for survival. Aiden immensely enjoyed this surprising little gem and we were really glad we got the chance to see it together. We thought this was a really special and endearing little show which shows the power of a child’s use of escapism as a way of dealing with trauma. It also drew adults in, in connecting to the inner childhood. It’s a non verbal show but has music, strong visuals and gets you to use your imagination as well. A very special show not to be missed.

Child’s Quote Aiden (5.5) said, “I loved it” “I think she is scared mummy” “I like playing space games as well” “I’ve made a rocket out of boxes as well” “I think she’s homesick” “she’s walking in moon boots”

A Strange New Space – Manchester’s Finest

A Strange New Space at Circomedia April 2017. Paul Blakemore photography. Manchesters Finest reviews A Strange New Space at The Waterside Arts Centre, Sale in July 2017. 

A Strange New Space is a highly entertaining, one-woman show at Sale’s Waterside Arts Centre that provides an excellent introduction to theatre for younger children. Tessa Bide takes us on a fantasy voyage of the imagination while simultaneously conveying the sadness and solitude of the child refugee, Amira, as she makes a parallel journey away from home into the bewilderment of a refugee centre.

Tessa has personal knowledge of the harrowing stories of child refugees from her experience working at several charities, camps and squats in Athens and she has plans to tour this production in Greece and other countries affected by the refugee crisis. Tessa’s intimate knowledge of child refugees is revealed in her lively and moving narrative that is at times sad but never sentimental thanks to the plucky and likeable Amira at the centre of the story.

It is extraordinary how Bide creates such a wide variety of environments through her expert use of mime and physical theatre; brilliantly complemented by the subtle use of lighting, sound effects and well-imagined original music. Amira takes us with her on rockets, through space and into gloomy caves in this highly polished and professional production, with excellent transitions between the inner world of the child and her attempts to adjust to and escape from her outer reality.

Bide is to be applauded for her pacing; for example, after a somewhat extended depiction of the child being processed in the refugee centre, she swiftly transitions into an entertaining puppet show with audience interaction. There are many tragic and joyous moments that are highly relatable for both the young and adult audience. As a wonderful actress, Tessa Bide has a rare talent for accessing the inner vision of a child in such a natural way, and A Strange New Space is a poignant reminder of how much we lose in terms of imagination when we ‘grow up’.

A Strange New Space – Weston Super Mum

Tessa Bide ASNS 5Weston Super Mum reviews A Strange New Space at Circomedia, Bristol, in April 2017.

Tessa Bide’s research for A Strange New Space took this excellent storyteller and puppeteer to Greece, among the refugees and squats in the camps there. Getting to know some of the children, adults and volunteers, Tessa was able to more easily base the life of her protagonist, Amira, on their stories and, more importantly, to broach the subject of loss and dangerous journeys with sensitivity.

Using a mix of music, puppetry and just a handful of props, Tessa tells Amira’s story in a way that engages very young children; her journey across the seas in search of the mother she has lost after their house is destroyed draws the audience in – they want to help their new friend, this fellow human being. All the while, Amira (Bide) begins to trust these strangers and, throughout the 45-minute performance, she never loses their attention.

This is a very lovely show not just about the journey and adventures of a refugee child but about the brilliance of the imagination. Although she has barely any possessions, Amira turns each one into a play thing, expressing the wonder of childhood, something that every member of the audience seems to connect with.

Tessa Bide aims to travel the globe with this word-free performance and she would like to perform to audiences in refugee camps; the warmth with which she tells Amira’s story will certainly mean that A Strange New Space is a hit wherever she takes it.

Here’s what Celeste. aged 10, thought:

I thought A Strange New Space was really good because you really had to use your imagination, especially because there was no talking. I really like how Tessa Bide incorporated the audience into her performance and made it really fun. I also liked how she used everyday objects and turned them into toys. I loved all her ideas and the planning of the show. The music and sound effects she made were not only good they also were fun to hear. I think the show was about a lost refugee girl who had nobody to care for her – that’s where the audience came in; they helped her along the way and all her toys became her friends.

A Strange New Space – Curious Mum

A Strange New Space at Circomedia April 2017. Paul Blakemore photography. Curious Mum reviews A Strange New Space at The Lyric Hammersmith in April 2017.

A play without words, with very little props and just one actor makes for an unexpected hour of being on an emotional rollercoaster. Each feeling, be it excitement, happiness, sadness or rejection, draws us into the story and is proving to be more powerful than a thousand words.

A Strange New Space is a new play by Tessa Bide, whom we have been very fond of since we saw her last show A Tap Dancing Mermaid. A skillful puppeteer, an author and a performer, Bide is a well of talent. She radiates warmth and connects with young audiences instantly and effortlessly.

Our protagonist, Amira, dreams of becoming an astronaut and when she’s forced to leave her home, after a big crash, bang and shake, her dream becomes reality. But no matter how exciting it is to explore new places, she longs for home.

The topic of child refugees has been handled with great care and tenderness. We applaud Bide for getting the balance just right and taking us through the rainbow of emotions well in the grasp of a 4 year old. What’s more, the show leaves plenty of room for imagination and interpretation. Hearing little whispers suggesting what’s happening on stage just goes to show what an inspiring production this is, sparking curiosity and genuine wonder.

A Strange New Space – Female Arts ★★★★

Female Arts reviews A Strange New Space at Bristol’s Circomedia in April 2017 (4 stars).

Amira is a refugee but dreams of being an astronaut. This fascinating, non-verbal production takes us on her journey from her war-torn homeland through to the refugee camps via outer space. Told through physical theatre, sound, lighting and puppetry, we follow Amira as she is separated from her family on to her journey into the unknown.

In January 2017 Tessa Bide went to Athens to volunteer and begin her research for Amira’s story. She worked with refugee charities and met many children who had experienced difficult and harrowing journeys. The production’s aim for A Strange New Space is to serve as a catalyst for conversations around the continuing crisis and to question what it means to be a refugee, especially for a young audience.

There is something magical about this solo production. Stripped of words, the production rests on Tessa Bide’s performance, which captivates the audience from the start. Her performance is imbued with humour and compassion as she gently guides the audience through Amira’s travails. The horrors of life are implied rather than explicit and whilst young children will not know the hardships of a refugee, they can relate to loss and deprivations like hunger. Witnessing the scene where Amira asks for food and the children in the audience respond by filling her bowl is a heartwarming sight, giving us hope for the future.

Arnold’s Big Adventure – Audience Review

Arnold's Big Adventure by Tessa Bide at the Small Things Festival, Dorset in August 2014. Photography by Kai Taylor.Having already seen Tessa Bide’s Tap Dancing Mermaid, we went to watch Arnold’s Big Adventure keen for another excellent show with music and puppetry. But this was different! The quality was the same, the compelling storyline and humour were there, but what was different was that this was not in a theatre with rows of seats. This was a personal encounter, involving a small audience invited into a circular tent for an experience like no other.

Even before we got inside there was an acorn hunt to engage all the children. Then in we went; the tent’s interior began as a woodland where youngsters sat on leaf shapes on the floor, while grownups were seated on ‘branches’ behind them.  As the story of Arnold the Acorn unfolded, the tent was transformed into the sea and later back to the forest. The children were encouraged to hide among the seaweed from a (slightly) menacing rubbish monster who sang a lesson in responsible litter disposal and to join in with displays of their knowledge and problem solving, as well as a pooh-sticks race. Tessa and her colleague really know how to relate to the young, managing to involve every child in the acorn antics. Adults weren’t left out – we made waves and swished our seaweed along with the little ones.

The overall story was one of triumph over adversity, friends helping each other and a tree living happily ever after. My grandchildren loved it! And what joy to watch children so completely absorbed in the tale that they forget where they are and, indeed, their (grand)parents’ existence. I have never seen a show with so much audience participation, nor one so perfect in terms of format and content for the age range, which is about 3 to 10. Younger children will enjoy it too, though some aspects will go over their heads.

Both performers played music and sang, clowned about and worked the seagull puppet. A very talented pair in a truly outstanding show; I cannot recommend it highly enough.

The Tap Dancing Mermaid – Curious Mum

The Tap Dancing Mermaid by Tessa Bide at Bridport Arts Centre October 2014. Photography by Kai Taylor.Curious Mum reviews The Tap Dancing Mermaid at The Mini-Vault Festival, Waterloo in February 2016.

Meet Marina Skippett, the happy-go-lucky little lady with big dreams of becoming the best tap dancer the world has ever seen. A lively and crowd-pleasing character, she is beautifully brought to life by solo performer Tessa Bide, and in this self-devised production, she takes us by the hands (and toes!) on a quirky journey of dancing and discovery in The Tap Dancing Mermaid.

One bright night, our nocturnal narrator – the flickering, full moon – tells us an intriguing tippety-tappity tale while keeping a watchful eye on Marina, and all 7 billion of us on earth too! The entrancing voiceover of the mysterious moon has us under a spell as we learn of his amazing adventures around our planet. Under nature’s spotlight Marina shows off her talent, has us clapping out the beat and leaves us longing to twinkle on our toes – we definitely spied lots of foot fidgeting going on! Marina’s only problem is a certain evil Auntie, one hilariously handled lampshade puppet, who does not approve of her hoppity-poppity ways…although she certainly has the audience lapping up her loopy-ness!

The (tap) show must go on and Marina escapes to the sea-shore and shares her woes with a chip-catching rather hilarious gull and discovers a buddy in the boardwalk itself, where her taps sound just terrific! A spectacular footwork frenzy from Bide has the youngsters craning forward in their chairs and wriggling to the rhythm. With the moon as her minder, she tap dances her worries away and makes friends with Leo the Merman where she makes a magical transformation into a mermaid! But how will she shuffle and stomp and make tapping sounds in the sea…and with a tail?!

An educational interlude brings a conch-load of delight with some audience participation and in this hop-stepping story, you’ll definitely learn something new, like a lovely lullaby with Tessa and her ukulele – just another few strings to her talented bow! Was it really just one woman conducting this entire hour of entertainment?! A satisfying sea-story for all (when our curious companion heard the title, he thought it may be a show just for girls but definitely not; he was the one laughing the loudest!) you cannot help but be touched and tickled by this happy-tappy, finger-snappy tale.

The Melody Makers – Weston Super Mum

Pip's boat. Photo by Sam Cleverly.Karen Blake (Weston Super Mum) reviews The Melody Makers at The Wardrobe Theatre in December 2015.

‘The Melody Makers’ is the latest theatrical offering from Bristol based writer and performer Tessa Bide. It bills itself as a magical musical extravaganza that will charm the socks of anyone young and old. We were intrigued! As we entered the inviting, cosy but more than big enough new theatre space, we were met with the sound of Tessa playing her accordion and chatting with the audience as they found their seats. Unusually for my 6 year old who usually takes a little while to warm up in a theatre show, she charged straight to the front row and immediately began chatting with Tessa and asking for a go on her accordion. Tessa obviously put her at ease, she clearly had a great affinity with children and made sure she chatted with me too…We knew straight away this was going to be a great show for kids.

‘The Melody Makers’ tells the story of 11-year-old Pip (played by Tessa), who hates Christmas. Sadly for her, her family loves it. They actually love it so much they have changed their second name to it, and practice all year round to make sure Christmas is perfect. But one day, all of a sudden the Christmas music disappears, and Pip must go on a quest to find out why it has stopped. Could it be down to the mysterious little melody makers, who seem to be the ones with all the music under their belts?

Tessa is ably assisted by three other talented musician-actors, who take all the other parts in the show with style. Each performer on the stage is able to turn their hand to a number of different instruments, and bring the story and the music to life. One lovely touch was a clever use of the musical instrument boxes as props that helped to tell the story. A guitar case that became a boat, another that became a hot air balloon, a set of bongo drums that provided the eyes for a not very scary monster… Lovely stuff!

All the actors (particularly Tessa) dealt very well with some particularly rambunctious young audience members who were perhaps a little too drawn to the easy to access stage. This may have put lesser performers off, but Tessa and her merry band of musicians went with it and played along with them. There was the chance for all the younger audience members to sing and dance along with the actors at the end, which my daughter loved…

We left the shiny new Wardrobe theatre feeling festive and jolly, and determined to be back for future shows. ‘The Melody Makers’ rounded off a fun packed weekend of Christmas show reviewing perfectly, and we would highly recommend it to get you in the festive mood.”

The Tap Dancing Mermaid – A Younger Theatre ★★★★

The Tap Dancing Mermaid by Tessa Bide at Bridport Arts Centre October 2014. Photography by Kai Taylor.Hannah Margerison (A Younger Theatre) reviews The Tap Dancing Mermaid at Summerhall during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, August 2015.

Marina Skippett loves to tap dance. She does it waiting in line for the supermarket, along the street, even in bed while she is asleep. But when her irritable auntie bans tap dancing, Marina can’t take no for an answer.

The Tap Dancing Mermaid is the perfect example of a show where the adults are just as enthralled as the kids. While there are no awkwardly subtle more mature jokes, the storytelling is just so captivating that you can’t help but let yourself be dragged along as Marina tap dances her way to the sea.

There’s a unique art that comes with solo shows. For an hour or so, one person must completely hold our attention – a mammoth task when the majority of your audience is under five. Tessa Bide has absolutely mastered this art. Not to mention that she is indeed a tap dancing whiz. How someone’s feet can move that fast and still create a coherent rhythm is beyond me.

With the use of puppets and the Moon’s pre-recorded narration, it doesn’t take long for us to forget that one person is driving this whole show – even when the characters are talking seagulls or an evil aunt made from lampshades and kitchen utensils. We buy into everything, all thanks to Bide’s excellent storytelling and characterisation. It’s not long before Marina’s aunt enters to liberal ‘boos’ from the audience.

The charm in this show comes from the fact that it’s structured like a sort of quirky fairy tale, absolutely perfect for those bored of the same old stories. There are all the ingredients of Grimm-style tales, but Bide has uniquely twisted them to create a story wholly more engaging and captivating.

Bide makes all right choices to submerge us into this quirky, seaside universe, and gets the balance just right. I love the use of a flickering lampshade as the moon, totally encapsulating that sense of wonder that only children possess. A must-see if you fancy satisfying your inner child-at-heart; even better if you can take younger children.

The Tap Dancing Mermaid – The List ★★★★

Kelly Apter (The List) reviews The Tap Dancing Mermaid at Summerhall during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, August 2015.

If you drew up a checklist of all the things a good children’s show should contain, The Tap Dancing Mermaid would tick every box. A colourful set, an engaging story told simply and clearly, characters worthy of emotional investment, and just the right amount of audience participation.

Delivering all this is solo performer Tessa Bide, whose warm, friendly style leads us gently but confidently through the tale.

Banned from tap dancing at home by her increasingly unpleasant aunt (ingeniously made from an old lampshade and kitchen utensils), Marina Skippett takes her talented footwork to the local jetty. There, she meets Leo the merman, who teaches Marina about his underwater world, its stories and songs (one of which we join in on, with ukulele accompaniment).

Meanwhile, the moon – our trusty narrator via a recorded voiceover – watches over Marina, and us. Not only ensuring we never lose track of the story, but providing a magical ending.

This is Bide’s first time to strike out on her own, and it’s an auspicious start. A fine puppeteer, and competent tap dancer, she also has a knack for encouraging audience involvement in a funny, natural way. Sometimes Bide plays Marina herself, then switches the character to an identically dressed puppet once things become sea-bound.

Manipulating both our tap dancing heroine, and Leo her merman pal, simultaneously with skill and precision, Bide never lets the pace drop. While the jetty itself, with its hard wooden floor, is the perfect platform for Marina to don her tap shoes and get hoofing.

A mixed audience of boys and girls, both equally engaged by the tale, proved that while the show’s title may hint at Disney-esque tweeness, this is a show for all to enjoy.

The Tap Dancing Mermaid – Childplays

Tess & AuntyKaty Lewis (Childplays) reviews The Tap Dancing Mermaid at The Hawthorne Theatre, Welwyn Garden City

If my four-year-old’s desire to do tap-dancing had been building in recent weeks, then seeing this charming show just about sealed it!

But not only was there some rather excellent footwork from creator and performer Tessa Bide, she showed that children don’t need TV characters and huge special effects to be enthralled by a stage show, just give them a good story, imaginatively told.

The Tap Dancing Mermaid tells the story of young girl, Marina Skippett, who loves to tap dance. But her evil aunt doesn’t share her love for “tappetty tap” so Marina escapes nightly to dance to the sounds of the sea on the boardwalk and forget her troubles. Constantly watched over by a talking moon who loves her dancing and narrates the story, she meets Merman Leo and … well I won’t spoil it!

Both gentle and fascinating, the production is basically a one woman extravaganza and Bide just exudes warmth, enthusiasm and humour throughout. Marina is sometimes depicted by a puppet and sometimes by Bide who also cleverly works and voices the other character’s puppets at the same time, expertly bringing them to life.

Fourth wall ‘smashed’

Thought has gone into every detail. Shells, pebbles and seaweed led the way from the theatre foyer to the auditorium and words to a song were helpfully left under the seat so you could join in.

There is lots of interaction with the audience and not just in a “behind you” kind of way. Bide hands round shells to look at – and wish upon – some lucky children end up on the stage to play a conch shell and everyone gets to play different sea creatures and join in with a game of hide and seek.

All in all, Bide absolutely smashes the fourth wallthis is just everything a children’s theatre experience should be and she even stays afterwards so you can meet the puppets and ask questions.

Now I’ve just got to book those tap lessons!

The Tap Dancing Mermaid – Manchester’s Finest

T blowing Conch - bigNikki Cotter (Manchester’s Finest) reviews The Tap Dancing Mermaid at Waterside Arts Centre, Sale
“With a buzz of excitement and a trail of giddy little ones clutching various Mermaid Dolls we take our seats in the Robert Bolt theatre ready for, The Tap Dancing Mermaid, Tessa Bide’s first self-devised production.
After a sell-out tour performing Niki McCretton’s Muttnik: The First Dog in Space and a stint in Glastonbury’s Big Top amongst many other successful performances, Bide transports us into the tippetty-tappety world of Marina Skippett, tap dancer extraordinaire who simply loves to dance. Sadly Marina’s evil Aunt doesn’t share this passion and cruelly bans Marina from dancing at home forcing her to take herself and her dancing down to the boardwalk in the middle of the night so she can tip and tap freely. These twilight taps come much to the delight of the moon who adores Marina’s dancing and compliments Bide’s performance by narrating the story beautifully. When Marina meets the mysterious water boy Leo, her life is transformed and will never quite be the same again.

Bide exudes enthusiasm and within minutes it’s not just the little people who are transfixed by the storyline but all of the adults present too. The experience is simply magical, with wonderful audience participation that’s not only fun but educational too; after all it’s not every Saturday afternoon you get to blow on a conch shell!

The puppets are beautifully made and Bide brings them to life with ease, it’s clear just how much she loves her work and her enthusiasm is infectious. Added touches like seashells lining the corridor leading into the theatre and the sounds of the sea all contribute to making this a totally charming experience. After the performance Bide invites the audience to the front of the theatre where she kindly answers questions from the eager audience whilst allowing them to touch and play with her lovingly crafted puppets. The fact that the whole of the audience stay behind to extend their theatre experience is testament to just how well this production has been received. Bide has certainly gained many new fans and her decision to make the long journey from her home in Bristol to visit the North West a very wise one, I for one am already looking forward to seeing her return with another perfect production.

The Tap Dancing Mermaid – Children’s Theatre Reviews

The Tap Dancing Mermaid by Tessa Bide at Bridport Arts Centre October 2014. Photography by Kai Taylor.

Flossie Waite (Children’s Theatre Reviews) reviews The Tap Dancing Mermaid at The Lyric Hammersmith

“Marina Skippett isn’t feeling like herself. In fact, she is feeling so muddled that she can’t seem to get her cardigan on right, pushing legs into sleeves and flopping material over her face. This is just one of many charming and hilarious examples which show that Tessa Bide, writer and performer of The Tap Dancing Mermaid, understands children in a way that can’t be taught…

The Tap Dancing Mermaid has it all – it is narrated by the moon; is performed partly with puppets; includes audience interaction, from the traditional ‘He’s behind you!’ to a chance to hold treasures from the sea; there’s even a sing-a-long and, of course, tap dancing…the aunt puppet (created from a lampshade and constantly blowing her fringe out of her face); the audience becoming the echo for Marina’s tapping; the exquisite set with a seagull peering round to look at the audience – these were all ingenious.

Bide’s first solo show for families is ambitiousshe really connects with the audience in a thrilling way”

Muttnik: The First Dog in Space

DSC_0370Jessica Currie (Guide 2 Bristol) reviews Muttnik: The First Dog in Space at Tobacco Factory Brewery Theatre

‘‘It’s a play about a dog that goes into space ‘’ I told my two boys aged 2 and 6. This was greeted with nothing less than unabated enthusiasm, and enthusiasm became the theme for the day. Niki Mccretton was the show’s creator and original sole performer, and Tessa Bide who fills the role she created seems to exude enthusiasm from every pore and this becomes instantly infectious. She has the audience eating out of her paw from the outset.

The story, as the title suggest, is based on the first dog in space Laika who went aboard the Russian Sputnik 2 rocket in 1957. Mccretton has taken her make-believe version of events very seriously, having done in depth research into her subject. She actually went to Moscow and interviewed a real life astronaut. Her interpretation, told through dance, music and puppetry and virtually no dialogue is beguiling, beautiful and truly funny.

Tessa Bide is a truly amazing one woman power house, and Muttnik is an all-singing, all-dancing whirl wind performance. She skips seamlessly, via spinning superman style costume changes, from Scientist to Solider to Babushka to Dog in a blink of an eye. There was plenty of audience participation, her comic timing was spot on and she threw in some charming references to classic films for good measure.

I began to wonder if she may burn herself out, such was the energy of the performance. I, and I think much of the audience, thought it had ended with the joy of hand jiving. But there was yet still more to come! Could there be too much to this play? My kids didn’t think so. And you could even go up at the end to get a signed poster, ask questions and look at the set and props. No wonder this Muttnik has been touring since 2004, it’s simply brilliant!