Holly Taylor and her young family enjoy a ‘seamless show bursting with creativity’

Shackleton is a dog. I wasn’t expecting that. I’d half expected the show to be a story for 4-7 year olds about Ernest Shackleton, and the thought had crossed my mind that that would be quite a tricky story to set for children…

But this Shackleton is a dog: specifically, a puppet dog. Beautifully hand crafted from wood and wicker, his design – as well as his lovely movements – makes him incredibly personable. This production showcases the magic of puppetry, the animation of inanimate things, without a hint of fur fabric. We see Shackleton’s story play out through the production, with songs and music to accompany him on his big adventure.

As the play starts, we meet Shackleton and his elderly owner, Martin, in their comfortable, but drab, little home. They have their routine and Martin keeps himself to himself. Shackleton wants to explore on their walks together, but Martin always pulls him back to the safety, and seclusion, of home.

One day, Martin leaves the gate open. Freedom! Shackleton bolts the gate and wanders far and free, into the city. Chasing cats, stealing sausages, drinking from muddy puddles: he delights in everything that delights dogs! He even had a good sniff round the audience, sniffing and snuffling children and their grownups on his adventure.

As he tires, Shackleton reaches what he takes for his own gate – but it actually belongs to Edna, a kindly lady who takes him in, gives him some fuss (and some cocoa) and tells him all about the great explorers she so admires. Martin, meanwhile, has been tracking Shackleton… just how does he know how to do this so well?

As Martin collects his beloved dog from kindly Edna, we discover Martin’s secret. He was a famous explorer in his day; daring, bold and adventurous. What happened? Reaching home, Martin ponders his reticence. Shackleton’s adventure has made him long to explore… is it time for him to don his old explorer’s hat? I’ll leave it to you to find out how the story ends – hopefully your children will be as thrilled by it as mine were. My daughter, 4, clapped her hands in delight and my son, 5, loved following the plot and analysing all the hints.

At the end of the show, the children were invited to come and ‘meet’ Shackleton, with Harry keeping him company. They delighted in his reactions (and so did the grown-ups); Harry spent time chatting to all the children and gently encouraging the shy fans to meet the star of the show.

Anna and Harry run a smooth, seamless show bursting with creativity. The interspersion of original songs, complete with guitar, and melodica (!) accompaniment, had the kids enthralled. I sneaked a couple of glances at the big boisterous birthday party sat across the auditorium from us: every face gazed at the performance, utterly spellbound.

This production is touring rural venues until the end of October, so catch it if you can. The shows are also coming to schools and nurseries around Wiltshire. Anna’s next ‘Tall Trees Theatre’ show is a carefully guarded secret – but I can guarantee that it’ll be one to watch.

This was our first visit to the Pound, and we were pleased to find a great local arts hub in full swing. Family-friendly with a bright, buzzing cafe, art activities for the kids, and fantastic displays from local artists and regular art classes, it’s a small centre that punches well above its weight. It’s also currently part of a big arts trail – pop in and tick it off your list!

For details of future productions of Shackleton in the area, click here