The Arcola Theatre Review: The Girl with the Iron Claws


The Wrong Crowd’s creative team love to draw on myth, folklore and fairytale and utilize puppetry to tell stories on the stage; but if you were expecting a children’s story from their current offering, The Girl with the Iron Claws, you would be shocked, awed, and enchanted in an hour of theatre that gives so much more.

The story, based on the Norse myth of Valemon The Bear King, is deceptively simple. It presents us with the youngest and most independently minded daughter of a king, wandering into the woods one day only to become transfixed by an enchanting object and to strike a deal with the beast that owns it, giving herself away to live in the woods at the castle of the bear king.

As much a coming of age tale with the allegorical trials and tribulations of growing up as it is a fairy tale, the play then enraptures us in a world of troll queens, curses, glass mountains and of course, enchanted iron claws.

In the intimate setting downstairs at The Arcola, The Wrong Crowd immerse us in this mythical world, making clever use of props that look like relic tools of some lost feudal world and using little more than a white curtain, a couple ladders and a footstool to interchangeably serve their different functions in upholding the illusion.

Rachel Canning’s stunningly designed puppetry work is what really takes centre stage here. Sometimes well constructed to assume the roles of children and sometimes overwhelming and terrifying as when all four actors coordinate to become the rampaging white bear storming through the forest, or the ominously threatening Troll Queen, Canning’s work really does raise the innovative bar with this piece.

Such deftness with spectacle can also depend on very good performances. Thankfully the performers in this production are amazing. Ffion Jolly channels a kind of innocent fearlessness, balanced later by a nurturing compassion that allows her to connect to the audience as the eponymous girl. We root for this character with wit, charm and an enduringly courageous spirit. The other three actors are equally impressive, achieving a smoothly choreographed synchronicity that weaves the magic of this imaginary world into place. Laura Evelyn deserves special mention purely for her versatility in assuming so many very different characters’ roles, as do Joe Darke, who plays Valemon with a focused intensity, and Paul Sockett, our warm and welcoming narrator.

See this play, a gloriously magical hour of theatre. Enjoy the refreshingly simple, yet compelling storytelling that comes from a tense battle of wit between good and evil, and rekindle a childlike sense of wonder and joy. But hurry. Current run ends on Saturday evening.

Written by Hannah Mulder

About Pete Lawler

Pete Lawler I was born in the USA, but I’ve lived, learned, and taught in London for the last 8 years. I reckon that makes me as much of a Londoner as anyone here. There are all kinds of Londoners.


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