The current Barbican Young Vic "Young Genius" season hosts a number of productions of early works by great writers and one all-original show, this piece for young children by Theatre-Rites. Sue Buckmaster's innovative company is probably best known for its series of "-works" site-specific shows (Cellarworks, Shopworks, Hospitalworks etc.), which seem to make their host spaces come alive. This time, in The Pit, it is thought itself that becomes animated.
The visual conceit is simple, and does not at first look promising. Each of the five performers carries a white ball or balloon of varying sizes; they stand in a row to create a three-dimensional thought bubble. When one balloon or another gets out of line, the show seems to be saying that you have to think in the right order. But this is precisely what genius is not, and the action quickly begins to reflect this. The symbols and performers interact with wonderful eloquence, showing how people can be clumsy with one's cherished ideas or can repel others' thoughts, how ideas can be bounced around and how others can bounce you with their too-forcefully-applied notions. The balloons come to symbolise both ideas themselves and what we can do with them, as live action and stop-motion animation sequences are projected onto the spherical white surfaces.
The company ask the young audience what it should be like to be a child: "fun", "run around and play" and suchlike come the answers. Slowly, on stage, a child-shaped balloon is inflated and puppeted by the company: literally, the thought of being a kid. The climax comes with the inflation of a Big Idea, which seems to absorb the entire company. In barely 50 minutes, this uncomplicated imagery has gloriously illustrated how enjoyable and liberating just thinking can be, and how it is by playing around with ideas as well as by ordering thoughts that real leaps forward are made. At least, that's what this hermeneutic reviewer derived from the almost wordless show; nothing is made explicit. How much communicated itself to the four-to-seven-year-old target market may be another matter, but they certainly seemed engaged by the bouncing around. And one of the joys of Theatre-Rites shows is that, although they are for children, one never feels out of place even as a lone adult.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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