The Tin Soldier: A visual and technical delight

The aesthetic pleasures of this production more than compensate for an occasional lack of narrative clarity

The Tin Soldier

Gate Theatre, Dublin


Before he became a successful writer, Hans Christian Andersen was a failed actor, deemed too gawky, too ugly for the stage. His fairytale The Ugly Duckling is often read as a metaphor for the author’s career, the story’s transformative arc an act of revenge for the storyteller. In Louis Lovett and Nico Brown’s biodrama, it is Andersen’s story The Tin Soldier, the tragic tale of the one-legged toy ever pining for love, that serves as a metaphor for his life.

The script first introduces us to Andersen (played by Lovett) in his dotage as he rakes over the battlefield of his life, but we also encounter his childhood self (Arthur Peregrine) and his shadow self (ingeniously embodied as a jack-in-the-box by the dancer Kévin Coquelard). The interplay between the elderly Andersen and his alter ego offers the strongest scenes in the 75-minute performance, with Lovett ventriloquising for Coquelard, who mimes and moves with the perfectly controlled unwieldiness of a puppet. The competing timelines in Lovett and Brown’s script are occasionally confusing, with the return to the source tale of The Tin Soldier creating a repetitive rather than a grounding effect. What the play lacks in clarity, however, is compensated for by its stunning visual pictures and technical triumphs.

There is so much aesthetic pleasure to be had in Muireann Ahern’s production. Jamie Vartan’s set is a series of skewed, receding picture frames in which Sarah Jane Shiels’s remarkable lighting design finds pockets of dusty dusk and haze. She brings us underwater, to the war front, into the fire. With the studded bulbs that illuminate Vartan’s frame, she also gives us glamour and theatricality—as do Sínead Lawlor’s costumes, a confection of ragged tulle and structured military garb.


Conor Linehan’s original music, with additional songs by Olesya Zdorovetska and Louis Lovett, draws influence from a classical repertoire, as well as 1920s cabaret and religious hymns. Supported by atmospheric sound design from Carl Kennedy, the collaborators have created a fully realised world for the audience to sink into—a world that is dark and rich and full of ambiguity, just like Andersen’s fairytales.

Runs at the Gate Theatre, Dublin, until Saturday, July 2nd

Sara Keating

Sara Keating

Sara Keating, a contributor to The Irish Times, is an arts and features writer