Quaker Meeting House
14.30 (run ends 12th Aug)
On the face of it, a simple tale – but one with hidden twists and turns, surreal, inventive and fascinating: yet another masterly production from Newbury Youth Theatre. NYT are into their third decade as a company, are regular and welcome visitors to the Quaker Meeting House [venue 40], and this year offer a show devised completely by the young company, with an entertaining mix of songs, movement, mask work, puppetry, and a light show in this tale told in verse.
Jack Coleman grew up on a mist-shrouded island somewhere in the middle of a remote sea: one day he stole a boat and set off in search of his father. He perished, or so the islanders say: but now we find out what really happened…
The opening is superb: one actor alone on stage is joined by one cast member after another, and a fascinating and multi-layered sound picture of island life is built up with the simplest of repetitions of phrases, movements, and rhythms. The inventiveness continues – the islanders become Jack’s boat, and the sea into which he falls. He is cast up on the shore of another island, whose inhabitants speak and act in very bizarre ways. Jack learns to communicate with them, and persuades them to help him build a boat in which to continue his search for his father – they join him, but are all engulfed by the dreaded SHMOO which they had warned him lurked offshore.
Inside the SHMOO is a call centre with a complex machine operated by brown-coated workers who are also part of the machine: Jack is handed from person to person without finding any answers to his questions – this is a superb and witty presentation of administrative hell. Finally he discovers he must leave the SHMOO by the rear exit – when it poos – and he is once more at sea, encountering beautifully twinkling underwater light-fish and three giants who bellow constantly for “MORE!” before finding a white-coated man, another machine, and the revelation of the Glorious Invention of his father, Emmanuel Stork.
The cast have very attractive personalities and continually engage the audience in their actions and words, drawing much laughter from both adults and children at the witty word-play and the fantastical scenarios. There were some serious messages embedded in the story, highlighting the current obsession with possession, acquisition, and ‘MORE’, and suggesting that the world would be a better place if people concentrated on giving rather than getting. Full marks to NYT for invention, creativity, talent, confidence, personality, and audience engagement: all of which combine to make an excellent afternoon’s entertainment!