Creators: PaddleBoat Theatre
Reviewer: Simon Topping
As we enter the venue Sophia (Katy Dash) greets us to solemnly explain that Mr Whatsit (Michael Smith) is dead, pointing to the bearded mischief-maker that lays flat on the beautifully crafted cabin bed in front of us. However Mr Whatsit (Sophia’s inseparable imaginary friend) does not easily comply to this bequest, sitting up and waving every time the shout of “wake up” comes from the excited young crowd; in fact, he appears to be completely ignoring his burial ceremony altogether and starts a game of hide-and-seek. This is the beguiling start to an hour of wonderful and touching children’s theatre that captures the heart of all those who witness it.
Following the exploits of a hyperactive eight and half year old in foster care and the imaginary companions she uses as a coping mechanism while she searches for her forever home, Margo and Mr Whatsit explores difficult themes, such as adoption, loneliness and anxiety in a thoughtful, engaging and funny way; in a manner that all ages can connect with and understand.
Created by Exeter based PaddleBoat Theatre, this piece is exquisitely written and performed. The three young actors all impress and the simple, yet effective staging, with its magic drawers, lights and steps, proves to be innovative and spellbinding to watch.
Once Mr Whatsit is no longer in Sophia’s life we meet Margo, a Mary Poppins like character who is there to boost her self-esteem in practical ways and put away childish things to allow Sophia to grow up more. Fabulously played by Hattie Brown, she proves a great juxtaposition for the chaos wielding of Mr Whatsit as they vie for Sophia’s attention in her quest to be loved.
Throughout the play there are some very sweet and humorous interactions with the young members of the crowd, all of which are handled with charm and an ease of manner that make every child in the room feel like a star.
The simplicity of the story, enthusiasm and quality of the acting make this a joy to watch. Smith excels, he is a great clown and has an impish bounce to his energy in the role. Dash makes a perfect lead, never taking down in her role as the story guide, always a pleasure to watch as she performs. Brown also shines as the haughty but helpful Margo. There is something about this production that makes you warm inside; the hilarious silliness of it at points also contributes to its excellence.
PaddleBoat have tread a fine line and come up with a rare gem that delights children and adults of all ages. This is a show full of soul, laughter, whimsy and hope; one of the finest examples of children’s fringe theatre.
Runs until 2 June 2018.
Image: Matt Austin