The Girl with No Heart

Fri 10th – Sat 25th August 2012


Juliet Roe

at 10:01 on 15th Aug 2012



This new writing was powerful, well-acted and beautifully sad: if you wish to be moved (to genuine tears by some audience members) then please go and see this play.

The piece deals with the reactions of children caught within war; they are parentless, directionless and constantly threatened by forces outside of their control. All they really have left to give them hope is storytelling, and the play follows the path of Samura (Nicole Anderson), who essentially leaves a sort of Oz (the world where all wishes come true) to that where none do, and where colourless people have adventures every day in a colourless paper landscape. Samura is distinguished from her colourless counterparts through the absolutely brilliant use of puppetry. The vulnerable resourcefulness of Ike, Shimbo and all the other lost children were portrayed through stylised masks and puppets, with Ike being impressively performed by two puppeteers (one per hand). The puppetry was good enough that you believed in them as children, and stylised enough that you were simultaneously in awe of the skill of those creating them. Ike making an origami crane, for example, with each of his hands actually belonging to a different puppeteer, was a marvel to watch.

It’s telling that one of my only notes made whilst watching this show (it’s that gripping) is simply ‘impressive origami skills’, as paper was what the set appeared to be almost entirely made of. The use of shadow puppetry enabled the cast to provide a sense of scale to the immense worlds that Samura travels through, whilst the inclusion of small details such as a paper centipede scuttling across the stage mid-scene further broadened this depth of perception. The plot was aided by two multi-tasking musicians (Lawrence Illsley and Tom Oakes), whose contributions were uniformly well-timed and apt. Despite the fantastic puppetry, innovative set and talented musicians that surrounded her, Nicole Anderson wasn’t swallowed by the production’s many strengths. Playing Samura with wide-eyed curiosity, petulance and warmth, Anderson avoided the potential creepiness which adults playing children can easily incur.

What made this piece especially touching was that its primary setting and inspiration, Hiroshima, took a backseat to allow the focus to be on the salvaged lives of the children within their barren landscape. Their story is introduced as one that we have ‘heard before’ and that will be told ‘again and again’, but it is told within the limits of their understanding. The children have no hand in creating their circumstances, only in coping with them, and this absence of real control is the brutal message that underwrites the whole piece. It is their small acts of creation such as storytelling or making paper cranes that they cling to and rely on. It is unbelievably impressive that this company were able to provide a study of a distressing subject so beautifully out of a lot of papier mache, glue and paper. Just go and see it.


Chelsey Stuyt

at 13:18 on 15th Aug 2012



'The Girl with No Heart' is simply spellbinding. It manages to weave together the childlike wonder of a world of wishes with the horror of a world of ash and terror. Upon leaving the theatre I heard one young woman say, “that show is not for children”. That's not really the point. 'The Girl with No Heart' is not aimed at children, but is rather about them. It is a beautiful allegory of war, of terror, and of inconceivable destruction through the experience of a child. It is a beautifully heartbreaking piece that manages to perfectly reconstruct the emotional experience of the Peace Museums of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (the inspiration for the story).

'The Girl With No Heart' follows a young heroine Samura (a luminous Nicole Anderson) from a world where all wishes come true to a land of ash. She goes searching for adventure, a typical child's story. She walks through a door into a land of ash, a land where children hide from adults for fear that they will steal their hearts. The plot is powerful but disturbing. It has two disctinct halves that do not entirely gel together. The land of light and colour, the land of wishes sets the audience up to believe that this will be a fairy story, while the second half refuses to be anything close to that.

The stage is littered with paper. A heavy tome sits centre stage while piles of paper refuse lie in jumbled heaps to either side. Everything looks dried out and burnt – even the clothing of the two musicians (Tom Oakes and Lawrence Illsley). So it is with great joy that Samura (Nicole Anderson) bounds onto the stage. Dressed in rainbows, she looks like a child's dream with knitted cap and technicolous skirt. Lenka Kupkova's costumes not only fit the characters, they enhance and reflect the story seamlessly. They are a joy to behold.

Little more than a head on a hand, the puppets are remarkable and for once, I found myself drawn to watching them rather than the puppeteer. Though Richard Booth (as Shimbo/Adam) created the world and held it together with a strong voice and single-minded devotion to his characters, it was Louisa Ashton (and to a lesser extent Shelley Knowles) that really stole the show as Ike. Every careful shift of his head and clutch of his sleeve was done with an honesty that brought the character to life. It is rare that a puppet's finale leaves the audience gasping with tears in their eyes. A testament to the skill of these young puppeteers.

From start to finish the show was enchanting and held the audience in its palm like it was itself a paper heart. The trauma of the finale left the audience in a state of disquiet and stillness that I have only encountered once before – outside the Peace Museums of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There you can see people sitting in groups, silent and heavy – just as you see them exit the theatre after 'The Girl with No Heart'. A masterful production of a difficult subject. Something that should be seen and never forgotten.


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