There’s warm lighting, bare brick, dusty air, and it’s been a scorching day in London. Stepping into ‘Children of Eden’ didn’t feel very far from the deserts of the Biblical Middle East at all.
The design of the show (by Kingsley Hall) is pleasingly earthy and bare; the actors are all in a floaty linen – which didn’t stop them sweating in the 30 degree heat, poor souls – and the set of wood, cloth, and paper works well against the brick wall of the Union Theatre. The show is also a masterclass in puppetry, with the most striking moment coming after Noah’s Ark finally reaches land; the parade of animals is brought to life beautifully by the actor’s movement, along with some exquisitely designed puppets.
Despite all the natural beauty, however, it does feel like something is missing from the design mix. At times, it is a little too sparse, and the actors are forced to rely on movement alone to tell the story. Whilst much of this is gorgeous, it is occasionally a bit ragged around the edges, and more than a touch confusing, with some moments happened far too fast for us to keep up with. A few visual images also passed me by; at different points throughout the story, small cloths are draped on the Tree of Knowledge, which, by the end, just looked a bit messy. The whole look just needed a few more touches; a dash of fake blood when needed, a few more materials to manipulate, and a bit more set.
Most of the songs are quite similar and forgettable, but there were some nice tunes in “Lost in the Wilderness” and “Spark of Creation”, along with some fun in “In Pursuit of Excellence”. The musical tour-de-force is finally brought by Mama Noah (Natasha O’Brien) in the penultimate song “Ain’t It Good?”. The tune is an absolute stonker, and she brings the full force of her range and power, which are both astounding. It is a shame that this isn’t the finale, in a way, because it really does bring the house down.
The subject matter is undeniably tricky. You have to work incredibly hard to make a Bible story not sound “preachy” – that, after all, is its job. The production strays just enough from Genesis to make it interesting, and the ensemble are spectacular, but there was no escaping the fact that the show became more and more worthy as it went on, with plenty of looks of wonderment, blessing, forgiving, praying, and so on. Wholesome stuff.
However, this does mean that there is a warm, fuzzy glow around the whole thing, which makes it rather pleasant, and perfect for a trip for the family. Whilst on the surface it may look like family values are up the spout – there is minimal time spent on the awkward fact that Adam and Eve are technically brother and sister, understandably – the whole show is about love, acceptance, and familial bonds. Even Cain’s brutal murder of Abel is explained away extremely well, and in fact, this is key to the whole show. The biggest draw is that Cain and Eve are suddenly the most sympathetic and likeable characters. They are curious, ambitious, and wonderfully flawed, and next to them Adam and God seem narrow-minded and petty. O’Brien as Eve and Guy Woolf as Cain are in turns excellent leaders of the troupe, and able to melt seamlessly into the background when needed; I wanted to see and hear more from them and their shadier dealings. With this talented cast, some edits, cuts, and on a slightly larger scale, this show might really find its feet; at the moment it feels like it is just missing the mark.
Children of Eden plays at The Union Theatre until the 10th September.