Imagine an Island of division, where people just can’t seem to agree on a huge decision that will affect the population for generations to come, welcome to Puffin Island.


We love a trip to the theatre, and in Exeter, we are incredibly lucky to have a broad range of local theatre companies including Quirk Theatre. 


Dreamt up by Simon Hall and Andy Brodie in 2002 to create an alternative Christmas show in collaboration with Exeter Phoenix,Quirk's shows are made for children. The scripts and music for each show are devised and written by them, they recognise the importance of the role of theatre in the early years: 


"We believe that strong storytelling and honesty in performance underpin good theatre; this doesn’t mean that our shows aren’t a good lark, but it does mean that we want to make something that will endure in children’s memories, helping to create a love of theatre that should last a lifetime."


Excited at the idea of the production, a few days before Christmas I took my smallest to Exeter Phoenix to see Quirk Theatre’s latest 'Puffin Island'.


Puffin Island Stage (c) Tom Hurley

"Nothing particularly out of the ordinary ever happens on Puffin Island, an unassuming little pile of rock just off the Devon coast. The puffins come and go each year, the Islanders and mainlanders quarrel (about EVERYTHING) and then set aside their differences every year to celebrate the best day of the year – Puffin Day!"


On Christmas Eve a baby boy is washed up on a beach in a little boat, the boy holds the key to bringing the Islanders and the Mainlanders together, and when the puffins leave the island, it’s up to him to bring them home. The show is interactive, and the audience is invited to name the baby boy, we chose Romanesco. Romanesco is brought up by the Islanders, by three parents and as the only small person on the island, Romanesco represents positivity and hope for the future.


We see Romanesco grow in a flurry of washing lines, toys and clothes until he is a teenager. As he grows, the gap between the Mainlanders and the Islanders widens. The Islanders want to reach “self-surf-fishancy”, but as they suck all the sand eels out of the sea, they destroy the ecology of the island and take away all of the Puffins food. The puffins leave in a bustle of shadows and sound effects, then with no puffins, there is no puffin day!

Puffin Island (c) Tom Hurley


Quirk Theatre cleverly draw a comparison with the battle between the Islanders and the Mainlanders and that of Brexit (there is no escape from Brexit!) The Islanders want to build a wall (perhaps there's a spot of Trump thrown in for good measure), the mainlanders want to “build bridges, not barriers”. 


The play does for theatre what Shrek does for film, in that it has the perfect balance of well-crafted storytelling and beautiful imagery to capture the attention of a young audience, and a comedic social commentary to keep us adults engaged too.


Romanesco meets his young mainlander counterpart (who happens to be the daughter of the leader on the mainland), both feel frustrated for not being heard (sound familiar?). They conclude that it is “better working together” and they leave the island to look for the puffins and bring them home.


In their absence, the worried Islanders and mainlanders also learn that they have 'more in common than that which divides them' and they work together to try to bring their children, and in turn, the puffins home.

Puffin Island (c) Tom Hurley


The sea ties the knot... perhaps they never knew, perhaps they had forgotten, that it’s the sea that binds them.”


The story concludes with the return of the young people accompanied by a baby puffin in a box, signalling new hope and rebirth. 


Quirk Theatre craft a wonderful story, their sets are beautiful, and the combination of music, puppetry and audience engagement keep you on the edge of your seat throughout. My daughter is six, and she was blown away. If you have smallies, look out for their future productions!


Read more about Quirk Theatre here:


Here's our review on Exploring Exeter of Lucy and the Lost ones

 Exploring Exeter

Stephanie Darkes is the Editor of Exploring Exeter and Exeter-centric family blog, she also writes for Exeter Life and Devon Life. Follow Stephanie on @stephaniedarkes and @exploringexeter




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