Welcome to where the wild things are

Collapsing Horse’s Yeats-inspired production will appeal to children and adults

Aoife Leonard beguiles as Lelia

Human Child
Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin
Four stars

Lelia is an unruly child whose best friends live mainly in her mind. When she hears a song in her chaotic bedroom – the clean-up operation from her bed fort would make BP baulk – she follows it to source, and finds herself in another land, stuffed with frenetic fairies, indifferent dragons, perilous mountains and Border-county blacksmiths. This is a land without weeping, and when you can leave a changeling behind in the real world to take care of the drudgery of school, cleaning and vegetable-eating, who could resist?

Human Child takes its inspiration from the changeling myth and WB Yeats's The Stolen Child, refracted through Collapsing Horse's energetic theatrical prism, which is coloured by modernity and Maurice Sendak-like imagery. The cast of Manus Halligan, Megan Riordan and John Doran tear around the stage, changing costume and characters at the drop of a hat or accent, with Doran particularly agile while playing both puppeted halves of a gay bear/rat couple. Aoife Leonard beguiles as Lelia, handling her turns from childlike wonder to teenage-esque tantrum with energy and sincerity.

One of Collapsing Horse's strengths is its commitment to theatrical fundamentals. Writer/director Dan Colley makes sure every prop is paying rent, and each puppet is worked to its wiry bones. The scene change from Lelia's bedroom to the fantasy land of mountains and fairies is a delight; and a terrific chase scene is executed with wit and skill. There's an uncommon degree of ambition in Collapsing Horse's work, and while this might have been produced on a shoestring, it's easy to see how its potential could be upscaled with larger budgets and staging.


There is enough here to keep even a child as grumpy as Leila charmed, but it’s also knowing and sharp enough to enthral adults. Colley’s finest joke is aimed squarely at the older part of the audience; Lelia’s reason for wearing a fairy dress to school is unassailable – “If I don’t, my royal court will be displeased”; a monotonous teacher begins a long-division lesson by plucking 4,327 out of the air – pity it’s a prime number; and the absence of Leila’s mother, the emotional undertow of the play, is ever present but rarely directly mentioned.

Human Child might not quite yet have the professional sheen of Monster/Clock, Collapsing Horse's last, terrific production. But there's no shortage of emotion, intricacy or craft in this beautifully-told story. Welcome to where the wild things are.
Runs until July 6th