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Watermill Theatre

Box office

01635 46044.

The Watermill Theatre, Bagnor, Newbury, RG20 8AE. A map is here. A seating plan is here.


Reviews of The Borrowers

16th November to 31st December 2017

Review from Newbury Theatre.

The Borrowers are tiny people, about the size of mice, who live beneath the floorboards in the house of Human Beans. They hide themselves from the humans and ‘borrow’ things from them to furnish their pad and feed themselves. One day, The Boy, visiting the house, finds them and thus begins a series of adventures leading to their ‘emigrating’ to an old boot in a field and finally to a model village where there are other Borrowers.

It’s based on Mary Norton’s books and brilliantly adapted by Theresa Heskins, but it immediately poses problems for director Paul Hart and designer Toots Butcher: how do you bring out the difference in size between the Borrowers and the Human Beans? Easy to do in film or cartoon, but on the stage? The answer is a multi-level set with the Humans and the Borrowers appearing at different levels. This is initially confusing – The Boy dangling a tiny Borrower on a string at a hole at the front of the stage while the real Borrower jerks about above him on a rope from the ceiling – but we soon get used to it, although my co-reviewer did need a little explanation in the interval.

This is traditional Watermill in the sense of actor-musicians and not-a-pantomime. Indeed, there’s almost no audience interaction, but if you want singalong and “oh no she isn’t” and “he’s behind you” there are plenty of other options available at this time of year.

The three main characters are mum and dad Borrowers Homily and Pod and their daughter Arrietty. Pod (Matthew Romain) is the hunter-gatherer while Homily (Charlotte Workman) is the stay-at-home moany mum. Arrietty (Nenda Neurer) longs to escape from their home and see the big wide world. The three work well together and clamber about the set energetically. I particularly liked Pod’s attempts to scare a War Horse style crow, athletically but unsuccessfully until he sneezes.

Frazer Hadfield, as The Boy, tries to help the Borrowers while Natasha Karp gives a convincingly nasty performance as Mrs Driver the housekeeper who tries to exterminate them – she’s the nearest thing we get to a villain. A variety of other roles are taken by Ed MacArthur and Anna Fordham, who got a round of applause for her operatic cricket.

The movable set was impressive, if a bit confusing at times and the whole production was energetic and fun. It’s a dramatic piece with good songs and music although there aren’t a lot of laughs. The kids in the audience seemed rapt.

My co-reviewer Ellie said:

I liked The Boy best as he was a friend to the Borrowers, and I liked the woman who was the baddy. The best bit was when we found that Eggletina didn’t get eaten by the cat. It was funny when they slid down the slide into the boot. It was good where they had to change into different clothes but better if there were more people! I liked it when the upstairs people were talking to the downstairs ones.

It was better than TV because there was a lot going on all around and it was all real people.


Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Small wonders

The Watermill Christmas show opens

The Borrowers, at The Watermill, Bagnor, until Sunday, December 31

The Watermill plays to its strengths with artistic director Paul Hart's vibrant actor-musician-style production of Mary Norton's children's favourite The Borrowers, adapted by award-winning writer- director Theresa Heskins. Toots Butcher's set design looks stunning, with its backdrop of a musical score and ink-splattered scribbles. There are colourful models of giant pencils and a partly-broken child's abacus. A number of crates, patterned with letters and numbers, are scattered on the stage.

The Borrowers are little people, mistaken for fairies, living below the floorboards of a country house. The head of the family is Pod (Matthew Romain), an intrepid recycler of unwanted household goods such as playing cards, half-scissors, cotton reels and so on.

Pod's wife Homily (Charlotte Workman) fusses a lot over her more intrepid daughter Arrietty (Nenda Neurer). Arrietty is an advocate for female emancipation by convincing her father that being a girl should not stop her going on his borrowing sorties. There's a strong ecological theme to the narrative. The Borrowers' ecosystem is threatened by the house servants Crampfurl (Ed MacArthur) and Mrs Driver (Natasha Karp). Arrietty is worried about population decline. Contemporary issues such as migration are depicted in an exciting scene when the family escapes capture by the humans and embarks on a dangerous journey to their new home.

Frazer Hadfield as the friendly owner’s son, who helps the Borrowers, and Anna Fordham, with some hilarious comic opera lines, complete the cast.

A fascinating element of the production is how the four non-Borrower cast members are used. As well as playing all the other characters, they shift scenery, form the band, and act as Inside Out-like emotions for the Borrowers' reactions.

There's plenty of humour as when the family, along with daredevil helper Spiller (MacArthur, doubling), ride the rapids in a boat made from a beautifully-designed old sardine tin.

They wave their arms frantically, the tin tilted hazardously. Unexpectedly, there's a cheeky freeze frame, a flash of light, and it's the fairground ride moment for a photo opportunity. With well-delivered songs, superb music and engaging performers, The Borrowers is a perfect family treat.

Book now!


Review from British Theatre Guide.

Mary Norton’s charming children’s book The Borrowers, adapted by the award-winning writer and director Theresa Heskins, is a sheer delight at Newbury’s Watermill Theatre.

Artistic Director Paul Hart’s inspired staging brings the tiny characters to life in this imaginative production, using the signature format of actor-musicians to tell the story.

The Borrowers are little people no bigger than 5 inches tall who live under the floorboards of a large country house where they “borrow never steal” items from the Human Beans to furnish their modest underground home.

Toots Butcher’s stunning set with a backdrop of painted scribbles and musical notes, a huge abacus that’s used as a ladder, children’s alphabet blocks that provide seats and tables with a playing card as a table and gigantic pencils creates the scale superbly.

The head of this tiny household is Pod, energetically performed by Matthew Romain as he makes sorties up the curtains and into the Human Beans’ home to gather unwanted treasure such as half scissors or cotton reels but most importantly avoiding being seen.

Charlotte Workman is Pod’s practical wife, fussing over the family and in particular her spirited daughter Arrietty, the excellent Nenda Neurer. She wants to join her father in his adventures upstairs convincing him that just because she’s a girl she should be allowed to go ‘borrowing’.

Unfortunately, she is ‘seen’ by a boy (Frazer Hadfield) who is convalescing following his stay in India and befriends Arrietty. He gives the family furniture from the doll’s house to make their lives more comfortable.

Their nemesis is the housekeeper Mrs Driver (Natasha Karp) and the crotchety gardener Crampfurl (Ed MacArthur) who are determined to get rid of these ‘fairies’.

They smoke them out and the family escape, assisted by cousin Spiller, in a boat made from a huge sardine tin to ride the rapids. In a hilarious moment, they pause as a flash photo is taken of them as if they are on a ride in a theme park.

Their journey out into the wide world to find their relatives is a hazardous one, as they have to cross open fields and they seek shelter in a large discarded boot as the rain in the form of stress balls pours onto the stage.

However, there is a happy ending when the Borrowers find a model village to make their home.

Tarek Merchant’s lively musical score is skilfully played by the company and one of the stand out numbers is the bluesy “Cover’s an Art”.

The Borrowers is the perfect alternative to pantomime and an ideal family seasonal treat and is highly recommended.


There are reviews from The Stage ("a warm and gentle family show" - 3 stars), Muddy Stilettos ("captivating from start to finish... you will not be disappointed"), WhatsOnStage ("a big-hearted, inclusive, satisfying family show" - 4 stars) and Henley Standard ("superb performances from the able cast of actor-musicians, and imaginative direction from the theatre’s artistic director, Paul Hart... a delightful and charming piece of theatre").

There's an interesting article...

... by Tei Williams about the process in staging a Watermill production, from choosing the play through to the opening night. It's here.

Reviews in the Archive

Under Milk Wood (October 2017)
Loot (September 2017)
The Picture of Dorian Gray (September 2017 and on tour)
A Little Night Music (July 2017)
All at Sea! (July 2017)
The Miller's Child (July 2017)
Nesting (July 2017 and on tour)
House and Garden (May 2017)
Twelfth Night (April 2017)
Faust x2 (March 2017)
Murder For Two (January 2017)
Sleeping Beauty (November 2016)
Frankenstein (October 2016)
The Wipers Times (September 2016)
Crazy For You (July 2016)
Watership Down (June 2016)
Untold Stories (May 2016)
One Million Tiny Plays About Britain (April 2016 and on tour)
Romeo and Juliet (February 2016)
Tell Me on a Sunday (January 2016)
Alice in Wonderland (November 2015)
Gormenghast (November 2015) - see the Youth page
The Ladykillers (September 2015)
Oliver! (July 2015)
A Little History of the World (July 2015 and on tour)
Between the Lines (July 2015)
The Deep Blue Sea (June 2015)
Far From the Madding Crowd (April 2015)
Tuxedo Junction (March 2015)
The Secret Adversary (February 2015)
Peter Pan (November 2014)
But First This (October 2014)
Twelfth Night (November 2014) - see the Youth page
Journey's End (September 2014)
Calamity Jane (July 2014)
The Boxford Masques - Joe Soap's Masquerade (July 2014)
Hardboiled - the Fall of Sam Shadow (July 2014)
A Bunch of Amateurs (May 2014)
Sense and Sensibility (April 2014)
Life Lessons (March 2014)
All My Sons (February 2014)
The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (January 2014)
Pinocchio (November 2013)
Sherlock's Last Case (September 2013)
Romeo+Juliet (September 2013 and on tour)
The Witches of Eastwick (July 2013)
Laurel & Hardy (June 2013)
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (May 2013)
The Miser (April 2013)
David Copperfield (March 2013)
Sleuth (February 2013)
Arabian Nights (November 2012)
The Tempest (September 2012)
Thoroughly Modern Millie (August 2012)
Boxford Masques (July 2012)
Ben Hur (June 2012)
Of Mice and Men (May 2012)
Love on the Tracks (April 2012 and on tour)
Henry V and The Winter's Tale (April 2012)
Lettice and Lovage (February 2012)
The Wind in the Willows (November 2011)
Some Like It Hotter (November 2011 and on tour)
Great Expectations (September 2011)
Radio Times (August 2011)
The Marriage of Figaro (July 2011)
Moonlight and Magnolias (May 2011)
Richard III and The Comedy of Errors (April 2011)
The Clodly Light Opera and Drama Society (March 2011)
Relatively Speaking (February 2011)
Treasure Island (November 2010)
Single Spies (September 2010)
Copacabana (July 2010)
Daisy Pulls It Off (June 2010)
Brontë (April 2010)
Raising Voices (March 2010)
Confused Love (March 2010)
Heroes (February 2010)
James and the Giant Peach (November 2009)
Educating Rita (October 2009)
Spend Spend Spend! (July 2009 and September 2010)
Blithe Spirit (May 2009)
Bubbles (April to May and September to October 2009)
A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Merchant of Venice (March 2009)
Life X 3 (January 2009)
Matilda and Duffy's Stupendous Space Adventure (November 2008)
The Sirens' Call (November 2008)
Our Country's Good (September 2008)
See Newbury Dramatic Society for a review of The Recruiting Officer (October 2008)
Sunset Boulevard (July 2008)
Boxford Masques - Knight and Day (July 2008)
Black Comedy and The Bowmans (May 2008)
London Assurance (April 2008)
Micky Salberg's Crystal Ballroom Dance Band (April 2008 and on tour)
Great West Road (March 2008)
Merrily We Roll Along (March 2008)
Honk! (November 2007)
Rope (September 2007)
Martin Guerre (July 2007)
Twelfth Night (June 2007)
The Story of a Great Lady (April and September 2007, and on tour)
The Rise and Fall of Little Voice (April 2007)
For Services Rendered (March 2007)
Plunder (January 2007)
The Snow Queen (November 2006)
Peter Pan in Scarlet (October 2006)
The Taming of the Shrew (September 2006 and on tour in 2007)
Hot Mikado (July 2006 and September 2009)
Boxford Masques: The Crowning of the Year (July 2006)
Hobson's Choice (May 2006)
Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea (April 2006)
Tartuffe (February 2006)
The Jungle Book (November 2005)
The Gilded Lilies (October 2005)
Copenhagen (September 2005)
The Garden of Llangoed (September 2005 and September 2006)
Thieves' Carnival (July 2005)
The Shed (July 2005)
Mack and Mabel (May 2005)
The Odyssey (May 2005)
Broken Glass (April 2005)
The Winter's Tale (January 2005)
Arabian Nights (December 2004)
See Newbury Dramatic Society for a review of Whose Life is it Anyway? (November 2004)
Multiplex (November 2004)
Neville's Island (September 2004)
The Comedian (September 2004 and March 2005)
Raising Voices Again (September 2004)
Pinafore Swing (July 2004)
The Venetian Twins (May 2004)
The Gentleman from Olmedo (April 2004)
Mr & Mrs Schultz (March 2004 and on tour)
Sweeney Todd (February 2004)
The Emperor and the Nightingale (November 2003)
See Newbury Dramatic Society for a review of An Ideal Husband (November 2003)
A Star Danced (September 2003)
The Fourth Fold (September 2003)
The Last Days of the Empire (July 2003)
Accelerate (July 2003)
Dreams from a Summer House (May 2003)
The Triumph of Love (April 2003)
Gigolo (March 2003)
Raising Voices (March 2003)
A Midsummer Night's Dream (February 2003)
The Firebird (November 2002)
Ten Cents a Dance (September 2002)
Dancing at Lughnasa (July 2002)
Love in a Maze (June 2002)
Fiddler on the Roof (April 2002)
I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls (March 2002 and March 2006)
Only a Matter of Time (February 2002)
Cinderella and the Enchanted Slipper (November 2001)
Piaf (October 2001)
The Merchant of Venice (October 2001)
Witch (September 2001)
The Clandestine Marriage (August 2001)
The Importance of Being Earnest (May 2001)
Gondoliers (March 2001)
Rose Rage (February 2001)
Carmen (July 2000)