It's not often you go into a theatre empty-handed and walk out with a pet dog - one that talks into the bargain. That (and the chance to have a wish come true) is what's waiting for you if you go along to Playbox Theatre's first magical production of their new season.

You'll also come out with a good start to a Japanese phrasebook and an insight into some of the key cultural concepts of that ancient civilisation. That's a pretty tall order at any time, but when it's all wrapped up in a production aimed at the under-tens, it's astounding.

And if all that sounds worthy and po-faced, forget it. A warmlywelcoming and brilliant cast, drawn from Playbox's Jinks children's company, ensure that the whole event is totally involving. Learning and fun is a seductive combination.

Members of the young audience get to join the company on stage in a tea ceremony and wave their Blue Peter-style origami fans at key points in the folk tale drama that fills the second half.

Nikki Claire Cross, Emily Jane Quash, Juliet Mary McGill and Tom Frankland bring a tremendous range of voice and movement skills to their performances - the ghost of a dog one moment, an impatient

emperor the next. It's exemplary acting, with tremendous craft exercised lightly and with great charm.

There are some subtle touches, too, from director Mary King with nods to many Japanese theatrical traditions, from shadow theatre to the large puppets of Banraku.

It goes without saying that the production values are of the highest - that's the Dream Factory's default standard.

Running time: 90 minutes. Until March 19 at various times - check with box office on 01926 419555

Sid Langley