Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Ark & Theatre Lovett, ‘The Girl Who Forgot to Sing Badly’: Are the Kids Alright?

The Peacock, Dublin
April 12-30

My review of The Girl Who Forgot to Sing Badly coming up just as soon as some of my greatest sadnesses are alleviated by goats ... 

Who are the felons of the theatre audience? Well, you have the ‘Crestfallen’ whose will to tolerate proceedings is defeated, usually identified by the kryptonite glare of their mobile phone. The ‘Sigher’ uses volume to alert others to their despondency. There’s the ‘Ignorant’: they indulge in conversations at the expense of their neighbour’s attention and deserve nothing less than to be strappadoed in the theatre bar at the intermission. Then there’s always the children. I’m not referring in this case to the adolescents at the mercy of class trips to plays and are determined to poke holes in our focus with rustling crisp bags and giggles. No, I’m talking about the small kids with smaller patience, their big impressionable eyes filled inquisitively with astonishment and practical reasoning. Their’s is a whole different type of mischief.  

Louis Lovett and his Theatre Lovett make dramatic adventures for all ages. In The Girl Who Forgot to Sing Badly Lovett, as an articulate merry andrew, tells the story of young Peggy O’Hegarty. Peggy and her parents are ‘Packers’ – motivated professionals whose business is to squeeze objects into unreasonable compartments. A grand piano in a jar and foxes in boxes are among their accomplishments. Her father’s patience and her mother’s deafness allow them to encourage Peggy’s gloriously off-key ballads. Unfortunately, business begins to dry up for the O’Hegartys, and one day Peggy wakes to find that the inhabitants of her entire city have disappeared. Echoes of recessive times blow through the tale as a cruel winter sets in to freeze the desolate city, and in her escape Peggy stumbles across a mysterious stranger and a mouse named Hildegarde. Are they friend or foe?

The performer-audience dynamic here is incredibly involved. When Lovett first climbs out of his box the children in the audience shout out their greetings. He hears out some individual remarks and responds appropriately without doubt or flaw in his improvisation. Never does he allow himself to be derailed. Lovett even enlists his cohorts to help him tell the tale. He prompts for assistance on matters such as remembering the days of the week and the key plot points of the story. Finegan Kruckemeyer paints a fantastical world here, and the technical flourishes in his writing – with reversals such as “Peggy couldn’t see the Lollipop Woman at the crossing nor the cross woman who gives out lollipops” – encourage logical contemplations in this discourse without losing sight of the magic of ‘possibility’. This is by no means a show that encourages an adherence to being quite. The Girl Who Forgot to Sing Badly is very much a collaborative affair, and it is this intermingling of responsibility between parties that makes children’s theatre such an exciting scene for experimentation of form.

Lovett dashes through Peggy’s story with charm and skill. His inhabitations of the characters in the story are performed with great physical dexterity to comic effect. There are interesting moments in his performance that are memorable not just for the sake of entertainment. In his meta-performance as Peggy, Lovett ignites some really interesting thoughts on ‘gender’ and ‘identity’. Quite regularly his performance as Peggy is one geared towards hilarity, but there are curious moments such as the scarf-blowing in the blizzard or standing in the closet of dresses that are not really seeking laughs or necessarily sympathy. There is a beauty to these curiosities.

Paul O’Mahony captures the physics of the Packers’ world with an amazing set which starts as a box and then unfolds into an entire landscape of possibility with flickering resemblances to boats, streets, and cars. Lynne Parker brings the wealth of her Rough Magic fame with the aid of talented technicians such as sound and music designer Carl Kennedy and Irish Times Theatre Award-winning light designer Sinéad Wallace, who all contribute to the creation of this magical world.  

Production values aside, what really makes this show is its emphasis on live performance. Lovett is grooming the next generation of theatre audiences, encouraging them to question boldly the nature of ‘performance’, and when it is this fun how can The Girl Who Forgot to Sing Badly not bellow victorious?

What did everybody else think?

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