Today is Sophie’s 16th birthday, so her mother is baking a cake. As Danyah Miller (who co-wrote the show with John Miller) mixes together the ingredients to bake a real-life cake before our very eyes, she’s reminded of a story she used to tell Sophie when she was little: about a family of mice celebrating a birthday of their own.
Kika’s Birthday is charming in places, and Miller is a very likeable performer, but the show lacks dramatic oomph, more story session than theatrical performance. Designer Alison Alexander’s menagerie of everyday objects transformed into animals, though often ingenious, are not used to their full potential. There’s very little attempt to bring these creatures to life in director Samantha Lane’s largely static staging – Miller’s own physicality is dynamic (credit to movement director Jennifer Jackson) but when it comes to the puppetry, she’s really just creating a series of tableaux and the story never really takes hold as a result.
Chris McDonnell’s lighting design is effective in switching between the cake-baking narrative and the story it frames, but the other signifier – a change from prose to rhyming verse and back again – feels rather twee.
We’re offered no sense of the world inhabited by the mice, either via the design, which doesn’t shift from the kitchen, or the Millers’ script, which is heavy on plot and light on atmosphere. Not enough heed has been paid to character either – it’s hard to care about protagonists that barely speak or move, even if they are cute puppet mice.