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Wilson by numbers

A new play has all the familiar elements of the children's laureate's work but strains to capture its magic


There are certain elements that are integral to any story by Jacqueline Wilson.

First, there is the awkward, slightly unhappy schoolgirl, with a special talent or interest that marks her out from other girls. Then there is her dysfunctional yet ultimately loving family. And there is her close friend, with whom there will inevitably be an emotional misunderstanding.

The new play based on the novel of the same name by the children's laureate ticks all these boxes. And yet somehow it never quite gels.

Midnight tells the story of 13-year-old Violet, who has just discovered that her older brother, Will, was adopted at birth by her bullying father and weak-willed mother (tick the dysfunctional-family box).

Her only friend is ultra-cool Jasmine, new girl at school (tick). So Violet hides from a friendless school life by sewing toy fairies based on the novels of her favourite author, Casper Dream (tick and tick again).

But writer Vicky Ireland, who has successfully adapted two other Jacqueline Wilson novels for the stage, fails to inject any realism into Violet's world; Midnight is Wilson by numbers.

With the exception of James Camilleri as Will, the acting is forced and slightly wooden. Sarah O'Leary, as Violet, is too obviously a 25-year-old affecting the tones of a teenager. The set is satisfyingly spooky, with an amber moon shining over tree branches. Ogre, witch and fairy puppets are used inventively to mirror Violet's home life.

But the reason behind Violet's fondness for fairies and fairy tales is never entirely clear. While the novel weaves Violet's obsession seamlessly into the plot, in the play it seems an irrelevant distraction. The play only gathers momentum in its depiction of the loving, yet slightly twisted, relationship between Violet and Will.

This brings moments of Wilson's characteristic insight. Will's bullying of Violet cleverly mirrors the way that her father bullies her mother. And his question to Jasmine during a game of truth-or-dare - "Why did you make friends with Violet?" - echoes the audience's thoughts. As a story of a brother and sister, Midnight has magical moments. But as a fairy tale, it never really gets its wings.

Midnight is on tour until November. For details, see: www.watershedtheatre.commidnight

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