Devised by Hannah Wheeler, Phoebe Hurst and Melanie Luckman
Directed by Melanie Luckman
Presented by Cubbin Theatre Company
at Isaac Theatre Royal, The Gloucester Room, Christchurch
From 10 Nov 2018 to 15 Nov 2018
Reviewed by Erin Harrington, 11 Nov 2018 for Theatreview.org.nz
Play Play is the second show from Cubbin Theatre Company, a group that creates theatrical experiences for the very young. Their first show, Up and Away, was a delightful performance for infants. This production, directed again by Mel Luckman, is aimed at three to four year olds (and their adults), and it offers an energetic and playful experience that emphasises movement and creativity.
Two performers, Phoebe Hurst and Hannah Wheeler, take the role of cheerful clowns in striped trousers and brightly coloured shirts who spend the show exploring all the things their bodies can do. They start with small exploratory movements, and egg each other on as they gain confidence and discover new things, moving from curiosity to surprise and then joy. Soon they are poking their elbows and faces, high fiving, bending, rolling, dancing, discovering new spaces and figuring out how to make music with their bodies.
Their movements and discoveries are supported and augmented by music from Hamish Oliver, with additional responsive sound and effects provided live by the technician.
The way the action and energy builds is a neat conceit, as the performers’ own growing confidence and demeanour models responses for the children, who might be (understandably) a little cautious and reticent to begin with. It also highlights that the two are in charge of their own bodies and personal space. It’s an endearing and charming performance, delivered with empathy and energy.
The performance space in the Isaac Theatre Royal’s Gloucester Room is simple and cleverly considered. A large square of astroturf, ringed on three sides by black matting and chairs, marks the actors’ play area in a manner that allows the children to choose for themselves how close to the action they get. A white sail above diffuses the light, creating a sense of a participatory environment, rather than a division between performers and audience. The audience are told before the start of the show that children can respond and interact how they wish, so it’s fascinating to see that it’s the parents who nonetheless police the children’s behaviour a little.
The children are enchanted throughout, especially once they realise that they can engage on their own terms. As with any show aimed at young people, as an adult it’s just as fun watching the kids as it is the performance. As Hurst pokes her eyebrows to make duck noises, a little boy near me is in paroxysms of giggles and nearly ends up under his chair he’s squirming so much. When Wheeler spins around like a ballet dancer, a previously shy young girl in a princess dress races to the front and spins too. Kids peer around chairs and roll around and jump and dance.
Play Play is a real delight. It charms the adults, engages the children, and works to build the audiences of the future.
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