If you didn’t know it was there, you wouldn’t notice it. Tucked under a stair of the Royal Festival Hall’s glinting, cappuccino-smelling foyer there’s a Moomins book, the size of a wardrobe. Open the front cover and you’ll find a door, behind that, a passageway. As we walk into Adventures in Moominland, we step quite literally into a story.
The Southbank Centre have done it again. In the manner of last year’s wildly successful Wondercrump World of Roald Dahl, the show, which falls halfway between exhibition and theatre, uses drawings, objects and stage sets to bring Finnish writer Tove Jansson and her Moomins to life. Led by a tasteful voiceover and an unpatronising guide, we wander (at times on hand and knee) through the history, landscape and dwellings of the beloved Moomintrolls.
Detail from Comet in Moominland
Over the course of an hour, we sit fireside in Snufkin’s tent, listening to lapping lakewater and owls overhead. We elbow our way through the luxurious forests of Moominvalley, full of butterflies and flowers as big as dinner plates. We fight off the Groke by starlight in a snow-strewn forest, unlock the door to Moominpapa’s lighthouse, shelter from the comet in Sniff’s cave (“Am I going to die?”, wondered Robin, age 8). Here and there in these beautifully designed spaces are treasures: Tove Jansson’s original sketches, early Moomintroll models, storyboards. There’s no text, no wall-labels to interrupt. Just spaces to explore, things to touch and music to hear.
It’s not all Moomins, though. The show is equally devoted to Tove Jansson, their beloved creator. There’s a mock-up of her studio - complete with a gramophone and groaning bookshelves full of Freud, Dickens and Alice in Wonderland. Balancing on a raft, we explore the tiny island on which she lived with her lover Tuulikki Pietila. The flower crown she wore for a Midsummer party is here, as are her easel and brushes, anti-Fascist pamphlets and spectacles.
Tove Jansson, author of Moomins © Per Olov Jansson
But, as any adult who has read the Moomins knows, to separate Jansson’s life and art is a false division. The real world – with all its pain, all its passion – is smuggled into these books.You find it everywhere you look. The comet is the atomic bomb, Moominpapa is a depressive, Thingumy and Bob are a lesbian couple, corresponding to Tove and her lover, at a time when homosexuality was illegal. (They walk hand in hand through Moominland and carry a suitcase, but its contents are a secret.) “Every piece of art is a self portrait”, as Jansson puts it.
The exhibition, like the books, will be beloved by adults and children alike. In fact, looking around as you walk out, everyone – no matter what age – has the same childlike expression on their face. One or two grown men were wiping away tears.
It’s a little cramped, granted. You find yourselves stepping over one another. But then, the Moomins were pretty small. What a big, wide world they lived in though. Take us back.
Arthur, age 10
Firstly I thought that it was very interactive and you really had to get on your hands and knees and have a look around. Also it was somewhat realistic, you ran around trying to find keys and go down secret passageways. Another great thing about the experience was that all of the things we did were actually in the Moomin books (Like the comet and lots of other characters). There was a narrator telling us what was going on (Of course I already knew what was happening because I've read all the Moomin books).
Robin, age 8
I was scared of the Groke and the Comet, but that didn't stop me loving it because I loved the happy ending when we saw Moomintroll sleeping. The tour guide drew a face of Snufkin on a chalk board. We tried to cheer up the Groke. She was a bit lonely. But we could still not cheer her up and then we ran away.
|What||Adventures in Moominland review, Southbank Centre|
|Where||Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London, SE1 8XX | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Embankment (underground)|
16 Dec 16 – 23 Apr 17, Weekends and holidays Every 15 minutes between 10am – 6pm, Midweek – OFF PEAK Daily, on the hour at 2pm, 3pm, 4pm, 5pm & 6pm Thursdays and Fridays only, an additional tour at 7pm for adults only
|Price||£15 for adults, £12 for children|
|Website||Click here for more information|