Writer: Elle Douglas
Director: Belle Streeton
For hard-pressed parents, lockdown has been particularly challenging and with limited access to external childcare facilities, having to balance home schooling with other domestic and work obligations hasn’t been easy. To help, Concrete Youth have developed an online interactive show for nursery-age children with profound and multiple learning disabilities as Shebaa the sheep goes on a journey of self-discovery.
Shebaa has been born without any wool and, taunted by the other sheep, she decides to find help. At the local library a useful book points Shebaa to the Wisdom Cow who resides in the far-off place of Jopperty How. Determined to find him, Shebaa sets out on a perilous journey across fields, down country lanes and up a mountain, meeting a number of helpful creatures on the way.
Concrete Youth’s 23-minute production requires a little pre-planning, asking families to collect together or make a series of props that each child will use in the show. Listed at the start of the film, most of these items are fairly accessible and a number of alternatives are provided – for example, if no balloons are to hand then a pair of rubber gloves, a lemon or an orange will do. Other tasks will involve making items including a rain shaker and a fan for key moments in the story.
In visualising the narrative, director Belle Streeton has made effective use of photographic backdrops that change as the story unfolds, taking Shebaa from farm to library, along wood-lined paths and to the mountain-residence of the Wisdom Cow. These static images even give some sense of movement to create the sensation of walking or, for the meeting with a pigeon, flying.
The two actors – Jodie Hay playing Shebaa and James Lewis-Knight covering the rest of the roles – have filmed their roles separately and are superimposed together to create a notion of being side-by-side which largely works, while Hay also narrates the story as herself while signing for the audience. Elle Douglas’ story is a classic children’s tale of learning to celebrate your identity using farm and woodland animals as ciphers to self-acceptance, all written in rhyming couplets that keep pace and rhythm.
The moments to pause and engage with the props are clearly signposted, although the curly font is sometimes difficult to read, particularly when there is a lot of it on screen, and it is clearly a show that will require parents to watch along with their children to get the most from it. Hay’s pink unitard and styling doesn’t immediately suggest sheep but her warm performance is friendly and engaging, although Lewis-Knight’s varying creatures are less distinguishable with a slower-paced delivery to manage the sign language and speech together.
Shebaa’s Adventure to Jopplety How doesn’t have a huge amount of jeopardy; there is never any doubt on how her journey will end or that any of the creatures she meets will help her rather than try to eat her which does make the story rather tame, but it’s appropriate for its intended audience. Interactive online should be an oxymoron but Concrete Youth has tried hard to make this a valuable viewer experience that ends with a positive message to embrace and enjoy our differences.