Unicorn Theatre, London – until 9 April 2017
Hartleby, Ooglemore and Jeramee are at the beach. It’s a beautiful, sunny day and the three are having a grand time, even though they can only use three words. The beach is full of potential for adventures – some happy, same scary, some frustrating. The language limitation doesn’t matter because it’s not what you say, but how you say it that matters. The colourful, clowning performance for kids ages 3 and up is a fun exploration of emotions without a storyline.
Hartleby (Lotte Tickner) is the first to appear. Old before her time, she’s grumpy and either wants to lie in the sun or antagonise the rather slow Ooglemore (Fionn Gill). Both are honest, childlike and physically expressive. The parental Jeramee (Jude Owusu) is a calming force, though not an unentertaining one. He helps reign in Hartleby and Ooglemore’s chaos and arguments and provides necessary authority when the audience gets too enthusiastic. The three are are wonderfully expressive both physically and vocally, and it is always perfectly clear how they are feeling.
Tim Crouch makes clear sense out of Gary Owen’s script that snapshots a day at the seaside. Micro-stories easily flow into each other, capturing that natural peaks and toughs of the squabbles and affection between children. Much of the staging is simple and focuses on the characters’ relationships, though there is a sprinkling of genuinely stunning moments – swimming under water and discovering the audience as sea creatures is a real highlight.
The children in the audience are engaged throughout, though some of the older ones are frustrated when the characters are slow to catch onto instructions – one boy of about 5 intervenes when Ooglemore struggles to understand how to play catch with Hartleby. But, they never lose interest or focus. It doesn’t matter to them that there’s not much of a plot; the expression and joy is fully engaging.
A sweet, fun show for little ones, it’s just the right length to prevent adults and slightly older children from getting bored. Visually appealing, gentle and a good mix of silly and sensitive, the intuitive direction makes this production stand out from similarly-styled shows.