Underbelly, London – until 18 June 2017
When it comes down to it, children are pretty shit at most stuff. As adults, especially as relatives, we sit through their talent shows, their sports games or their music recitals as they scratch away at the violin, miss an open goal or belt out Ariana Grande (even though the backing track is for a Taylor Swift song). We clap and applaud and boost their ego with platitudes. But they’re shit… for the most part.
Jess Love gets that – And The Little One Said is a performance that capitalises on it. The concept works, but in this case a paying audience have the right to expect some more acrobatic skill from a trained professional.
Love ingeniously combines the same childlike glee that all youngsters feel when they learn a new trick or skill with the misguided belief that they are instantly an expert at it. She dresses like a doll and has that same sense of plucky confidence that fearless kids get when they literally throw themselves into any new activity. At times she succeeds, barely. She manages to get up on roller skates without falling over, after the umpteenth attempt. Of course, as a child she never loses heart or gives up; there’s a beautiful sense of insanity about her persona – she keeps trying the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. Kids are insane.
But you can’t make a 45-minute act out of trying. And The Little One Said ultimately needs to achieve at some point. And Love doesn’t achieve often enough. The audience politely claps like encouraging family members, for a while. But every person is expecting the big finish, the impressive trick packed with difficulty that leaves their mouths agape. It just doesn’t happen.
Some of the tricks pay off right at the end. After a series of cartwheels and round-offs, Love fluidly flips across the stage with ease; after hula hooping two or three hoops, she runs backstage with a mischievous look on her face and comes out with a dozen more, each of which she keeps spinning with as little difficulty as those first two. The strongest moment is her skipping rope routine – a combination of difficult tricks performed without breaking a sweat, while she recites an overtly sinister nursery rhyme about a little girl that makes the mistake of holding a stranger’s hand in the woods.
Eventually, Love loses it – the demon child emerges with half-hearted force. She gets hyped up on sugar, turns from cute to catastrophic and hammers nails into her nose, strips down to her underwear and lies on broken glass. It’s tantrum time… except she’s a grown woman playing a child in their underwear, which brings with it an intrinsic ‘ick’ factor. That sense of guilty laughing and awkwardness is what carries the show, the combination of childlike innocence with swearing and rollies and coughing up blood.
The ending is the equivalent of a childhood funeral, Love lies on broken glass in her pants as glitter and some RIP flowers drop from the ceiling. It’s an ending abrupt enough to fit the awkward overtone for And The Little One Said. It’s also one that deserves the reticent applause it receives, the audience still left wondering when the big finale is actually going to start.