Writer/Director: Tim Webb
Reviewer: Harry Stern
When it comes to theatre for pre-school children Oily Cart Theatre Company is in the vanguard of a small group of quality practitioners. This delightful production running over the Christmas period at Stratford Circus, is a superb introduction to live theatre for the 2 -5 year old age group.
The great distinction between this company’s practice and that of most other theatre companies making work for the age group is one of philosophy. Tim Webb, the Artistic Director, makes work with the children of his audiences rather than for them. Never has the term ‘immersive’ been so accurately applied. No effort is too great to ensure that his audiences engage, nor any theatricality too adult or sophisticated. Thus, however simple the narrative, the production utilises music, lighting, soundscapes, circus skills, projection and song to draw the audience into an experience in which they fully participate, enraptured. It is an experience, fashioned and delivered with great care and attention to detail.
Using three actor/storytellers and a musician, the piece tells the tale of what happens when the Woman Who Lives In The Moon comes down from the sky to play with the children on a beautiful beach. She likes it so much she doesn’t want to go home. But she must and so she takes the children with her. They willingly dance, they eagerly climb a sand ladder to the moon, they believe they can fly, they meet 2 moon robots, and they sing songs. Still completely credulous, they watch as the moonwind is first captured in a giant balloon held together by a sandwich bag clip and then as the wind is allowed to escape. And when asked to help, the children collect up wind in plastic buckets that they have had since the start of the show and deposit it back in the balloon.
The charm of the show is immense, its hold on the imagination of its very young audience almost total. We ‘responsible big people’ were seated round the outside of the giant sandpit’s wall, in which the majority of the action takes place. The children sat on the wall itself while the story went on in front of, around, above and behind them. Max Reinhardt and Catriona Price’s music keeps the action constantly interesting while Claire de Loon’s set is a masterpiece of design for the under 5’s incorporating the use of silks for the Woman in the Moon’s descent to earth and a projection screen detailing both the earthly and lunar sandscapes which the show visits.
The performers are very strong. Griff Fender, Natasha Magigi, Grace Turner, Catriona Price all contribute to the sense of a shared voyage of discovery with Turner using impressive silk skills to descend from the moon all clad in gold. But this is the philosophy of the piece. It is very much an ensemble piece of work in which actors, musicians and the audience play an equal part.
At fifty-five minutes long it is the perfect length. No child gets bored, none demand to go home, not one needs a toilet break, so involved are they in the experience. Many producers of commercial theatre for children could do worse than have a look at how Oily Cart works – they are exemplary.