‘Novel & engaging show’: THE UNIVERSITY OF WONDER & IMAGINATION – Cahoots NI (Online review)

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I graduated yesterday afternoon; and that’s pretty good going as I only started the course an hour earlier! I was a temporary student at the newly founded University Of Wonder And Imagination taking a swift course majoring in mathemagic and portraitology and learning about the new science of telecomology involving space and time travel. So, pretty full on… This brand new interactive online show comes from Cahoots NI based in Belfast who specialise in theatre for young people. Denied the opportunity to interact directly they have set up online and produced a show which is premiering as part of the Belfast International Arts Festival.

We were a very select group; just six screens are permitted for each session so booking in is essential but there are plenty of timeslots. This gives the whole experience a really intimate feel and means there is plenty of interaction between performers and audience. It’s a very whizzy show – in all the best possible ways – and I have to admit it left me scratching my head as to how they had achieved some of it. It certainly makes full use of the Zoom technology to create a seamless experience which is high on production values. Firstly, we meet the University Chancellor Professor Alexander Bamberg and are given a guided tour by Professor Sharma – the facilities (created by BNL Media) certainly look impressive. During the preliminaries we are all invited to think of some numbers, and these are used to decide which rooms in the university we will visit.

This brings us to the heart of the show as we have three short but engaging sessions with some of the other “academics”. First, we  learn about the power of numbers from Professor Carmo complete with some impressive card magic. Being a cynic, I always suspect the worst of card magicians in terms of having a stooge in the audience. Well, as I got to choose a card (any card) in my head and then the Professor proceeded to impressively reveal what it was, there was no way this could have been fixed; therefore, it must have been magic – QED. Next, we moved to Professor Hurst where we examined some astronomical delights and were even treated to a song. Finally, Professor Hoffman really bamboozled us with his magic paintings, a suitably delightful finale.

The cast of five (Hugh W. Brown, Sean Kearns, Caolan McBride, Philippa O’Hara and Lata Sharma) make for an engaging troupe who demonstrate an affinity with children and are quick to respond to individuals in the audience giving the show a distinctly personal feel. Paul Bosco McEneaney’s direction ensures that the various sessions work well and do not outstay their welcome and that transitions are slick. He is also the show’s creator so (top) hats off for dreaming up an inventive and entertaining hour. My one slight criticism is that there perhaps needs to be a bigger finish after the various individual sessions; something which draws the various threads together more completely.

This is a novel and engaging show aimed at ages 7+ though adults will enjoy it too. While it is fun it is also educational and provides a stimulating introduction to a number of topics which can be explored further. The show has been timed just right for half term, especially where this has been elongated by lockdowns – partial or otherwise. I can only say that given the parlous state which most university students find themselves in at the moment, I am rather glad to have been part  of this particular educational establishment and will definitely be adding my graduate certificate to my list of lockdown achievements.

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John Chapman
John Chapman works as a freelance education consultant, writer and copy editor. Prior to this, he was an Assistant Headteacher specialising in English and Drama. John first took to the stage as a schoolboy pretending to be a Latin frog. Decades later, he has been involved with 150+ productions, usually as an actor or director. He is currently a member of Tower Theatre in Stoke Newington, London. In 2016, he was in their “mechanicals” team that worked as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Play For The Nation, appearing both at the Barbican and in Stratford-upon-Avon. In 2004, he served as a panellist on the Olivier Awards; he is currently an Offies assessor. He reviews for a variety of websites, writes his own independent blog 2ndFromBottom about his theatrical life.
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John Chapman on RssJohn Chapman on Twitter
John Chapman
John Chapman works as a freelance education consultant, writer and copy editor. Prior to this, he was an Assistant Headteacher specialising in English and Drama. John first took to the stage as a schoolboy pretending to be a Latin frog. Decades later, he has been involved with 150+ productions, usually as an actor or director. He is currently a member of Tower Theatre in Stoke Newington, London. In 2016, he was in their “mechanicals” team that worked as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Play For The Nation, appearing both at the Barbican and in Stratford-upon-Avon. In 2004, he served as a panellist on the Olivier Awards; he is currently an Offies assessor. He reviews for a variety of websites, writes his own independent blog 2ndFromBottom about his theatrical life.

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