★★★★½ Extravaganza Macabre at the Battersea Arts Centre
Battersea Arts Centre’s new open-air theatre debuts with this endearingly lo-fi comic tale of love lost and found courtesy of Little Bulb Theatre.
There is something fittingly Shakespearian about this panto-fable from the theatre company behind some of our favourite shows of recent years (Operation Greenfield, Squally Showers, Wail) given that the BAC’s new courtyard space is like a miniature Globe Theatre. Fear not, Bard-phobes, there is no Shakespearian language – but the enthusiasm of the unfairly multi-talented trio of actors (Alexander Scott, Clare Beresford and Dominic Conway), performing multiple roles and inspiring flights of fantastical imagination through their committed performances of a witty and whimsical script, brings to mind the heady comedic heights of some of Bill Shakespeare’s more accessible comedies.
The story is simple – two lovers, about to marry, are tragically separated: he, swept away in a storm, suffers from amnesia, while she, thinking he is dead, mourns until her father arranges marriage with a mysterious, nefarious figure. Can an orphan street urchin and a spirit-channeling housekeeper help to bring the star-crossed lovers back together?
Solid panto territory, then – with a boo-worthy villain to boot – the trick with such a story being to play it straight and rely on the audience to get the jokes. And that is to play to Little Bulb’s strengths – after all, if you can straight-facedly sing love-songs about whales, you can pull off an emotional connection with a toy dog, convince an audience that a rat might just be able to get you out of a spot of bother, and enact a final act duel – at height – with a conviction usually reserved for Hamlet or King Lear.
The BAC couldn’t have picked a better opening show for the courtyard space – this is the type of play-along theatre fun that needs to be performed beneath darkening summer skies, with pies and ale served from a cart at the interval, and blankets doled out as the chill sets in after sunset. Magical fun.