There’s a reason why people are reluctant to sit in the front row. Expect to be picked on, called out or even become part of the show!
This was my first time to see a family production at Chapter apart from their regular family film Saturdays – a favourite of mine and my little ‘mini me’ Lili, age 7. This was also the first time for Lil to accompany me on a trip to see a show I was reviewing.
We are greeted in the theatre by Dot (played by Hazel Anderson) and Aggie (Ellen Groves), who immediately strike a chord with the kids in the audience.
The set is whimsical and dreamy, there are washing lines with wind chimes and floaty plastic bags gently blowing in the breeze. There are fishermen’s nets lit with icy blue fairy lights. There is an ethereal and robotic soundtrack, creating the feeling that we are definitely somewhere else.
I’m not sure if we are in an inventor’s workshop or an art studio. I know that just watching those floaty bags swishing in the dimly lit studio immediately put me at ease despite there being around a hundred kids behind me – and this is a rare feeling for me!
Anderson and Groves play the part of Dot and Aggie, two ladies with a special mission: to collect and gather as many stories as possible from their dream platform on the sky. It’s been a couple of hundred days since their last story was gathered. Somewhere along the way and I have no idea where, as engrossed as I was in the story – they swallow an item that makes them become storyTELLERS instead of story gatherers.
They set upon a mission to meet a giant, who needs his heart back so that all order can be re-instated. The story is based on an old Norwegian tale, which it turns out is a lot more complicated and multifaceted than this pared-down devised creation.
In this story, Dot and Aggie beg, steal and borrow from everyday items and old nick-nacks to move the story along. Stories are ‘hoovered up’ in disco-lit tubes and deposited in tin cans, crows are created with a tatty umbrella, miniature characters are created using a sponge and a tin can. The giant is conjured up using a couple of white bed sheets and some poles with rubber gloves on the end.
This is no-frills theatre, but with pure champagne ideas. It is imaginative and fun to the core, but what makes this a production really worth watching is the sheer exuberance and hilarity of Anderson and Groves.
It’s clear they have cleverly crafted this tale, injected it with a few madcap extras and sprinkled a whole load of Christmas fun on top.
The improvised asides and lines come thick and fast, there are mishaps on stage (arms fall off the little characters, costumes getting tangled up) and the energy and fun of the two during the performance is completely contagious.
This is not a kid’s play where the actors talk to you in a high pitched voice and coddle your special little snowflakes.
These two have sass and plenty of it. The comic interaction of this duo reminded me of French and Saunders, with a side order of Victoria Wood and a sprinkle of ‘Smack the Pony’.
I loved the joshing and piss-taking of traditional character types: ‘Me? Jump in this well? But I am a mere delicate waif maiden with a very floppy hand’. ‘Gee miss’, Dot’s character hams up with a strange gruff American twang, ‘Haven’t you ever heard of feminism’?
Kids in the audience belly laughed and roared, cheered on by the characters who played along brilliantly with all the interruptions. When the giant’s arms got tangled up on stage, I went up and tried to assist as best I could before giving up and sitting down.
The whole thing could have gone tits up from there, but they managed to recruit an ‘adult man’, who helped them untie the Giant’s arms and move the story along. ‘I’m glad we are filming THIS performance’, one of them quipped.
I always listen intently to others in the audience for snippets during the intervals/intermission. One Mum commented she thought some of the audience interaction bits (breaking the 4th wall, etc) were unnecessary in parts. I think the only lame ducks were some of the cheeseball ‘Dad jokes’ – ouch. But then you need some Dad jokes in a kid’s show I suppose – tradition and all that!
Keen to recruit a new mini reviewer, I’d asked mini me after leaving the show ‘Do you want to do a video review so all the other Mums and Dads can find out about the show and you can tell the actors what you thought?’ ‘Noooooooo!!!!’ she said firmly. That was the end of my dream for my ‘Mommy and me live theatre review channel’.
However, I did persuade her that a written review would also be very welcome. This struck a chord with her and she was keen to share her thoughts and her 5 star rating. She was delighted to be called out in the show – ‘What did you eat for breakfast?’ Ellen Groves’ character Aggie asked her.
‘Pancakes’, she responded. Later in the show, Aggie (dressed as the hilarious Giant) asks kids in the front row ‘Have a guess where my heart is buried…?’ before interrupting them and bellowing back ‘NO!’
She then turned to Lili and said ‘Oi…pancakes…what do you think?’ So Lili signed her note this evening ‘Love, Pancakes’. This may have been Lili’s first review but it was also a love letter from a theatre fan girl in the making.
When she got home, her first words when she saw her Dad were ‘DAD – You seriously missed out!’ Maybe next time, little one (and Dad can help hold up the giant’s arms!)
From Lili (hand-written review pictured above):
Wow! What a great show!!! I loved the creation. I hope you do more shows like this. It was soooooo good. You acted great. It was sooooo funny. The puppets were wonderful. I want to see it again! I wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy new year, from ‘Pancakes’. (5 stars)
Type of show: Theatre
Title: The Giant Who Had No Heart In His Body
Venue: Chapter Arts Centre
Dates: 19 December (Touring show)
Devised by: Hazel Anderson & Ellen Groves
Directed by: Hazel Anderson & Ellen Groves
Cast: Hazel Anderson (Dot) & Ellen Groves (Aggie)
Running time: Approx 1.5 hrs (includes interval)
Produced by Likely Story