Just The Tonic @ The Caves (Venue 88)
Aug 11th – 28th (not 15th)
I was an avid reader as a child and devoured Enid Blyton books at the rate of one per week. When my Grandma took me into town and asked what I wanted as a present I would rush to the book aisle and see what Blyton adventure I could add to my gigantic collection – I even plagiarised one of the stories in a Primary 2 story writing exercise (sorry Mrs. Nash!). Despite my Blyton fanboy status I managed to enter adulthood as a non-racist, non-sexist homosexual, and still look back fondly on late nights and Sunday afternoons being transported to the land of Smugglers and Gypsies that was Kirrin Island.
It is because the stories and attitudes of the books seem so politically incorrect today that they lend themselves so well to pastiche like this latest from Shedload Theatre. All the staple plot devices from the novels are here – shady looking foreigners, mysterious lights at night and, of course, smugglers! An audience member who had never read the books would struggle to find some of these references funny, but would probably still recognise the general humour found from sending up the “ginger beer” innocence of the general era.
The references do work well, but are crammed into the show at the expense of a good story. The show is messy on many levels. and would have been more enjoyable if just one of the plot-lines had been chosen and actually developed into a narrative that captivated for the hour. I’m aware of the constrictions when working in small venues but the set changes are clunky, with the cast seeming to want to make as much noise as possible doing them.
The cast are, however, generally very good at capturing the jolly personalities of the main characters. I particularly liked the actor playing Anne, whose incessant desire to have an adventure came across in an appropriately enthusiastic performance. I don’t recall Dick being all that thick in the novels, but I also found this character performance enjoyable to watch. Uncle Quentin could refine his comic timing, and Aunt Fanny could be less of a shrieking caricature. The standouts of the show were the actors playing all the additional parts – Skanky Dave and his sidekick were tremendously funny in all their various guises.
Fans of the books will certainly watch this show with nostalgic enjoyment and, with a little more focus on a simple coherent plot and a less excitable Fanny this show could be developed into something super.