Review written by Flossie Waite
Presented by Tell Tale Hearts and Imagination Stage (USA)
Half Moon Theatre
For ages 2-6
What could be better than watching actors making a mess and being silly on stage? Joining in! Inside Out taps into the early years’ impulse to copy the fun in front of them. The audience were already mimicking the noises, actions and sometimes whole phrases of the play before they were invited to open the bag of props provided to each child so they could fold, make puppets, dance and tidy along with the story. This co-production from Tell Tale Hearts and Imagination Stage (USA) is uniquely interactive, putting the ‘play’ in plays.
A brother and sister play in their room at bedtime, until the former loses his special hat and they must go on an imaginative adventure to find it. The signal for the hat’s ‘specialness’ is a very funny recurring dramatic phrase – everything stops each time it is mentioned for special music to play and special actions to be done. But it isn’t the only special piece of clothing in the show – every item is fun as wrongly put-on pyjamas turn the wearer into a penguin and a snake, and t-shirts and trousers can be tied together to scale a mountain.
These simpler transformations actually work better – the caterpillar socks or fish gloves are more meaningful than the crafted puppet towards the end. It is far more entertaining seeing the two siblings turn the objects around their bedroom into other things, playing in a way that the young audience could, and would, too. Whilst the puppet is fashioned out of old clothes, it appears ready-made, falling out of the realm of their bedtime play.
It is nice to see a role reversal of gender stereotypes, similar to that in the two-hander Seesaw on at the Unicorn recently. The boy finds real joy in neat folding and frets about the untidiness, whereas the girl has to be cajoled into caring about the mess.
Whilst many productions invite their young audience onto the stage for a play session afterwards (as does this show), it’s rarer to have all the children on stage during the performance. Inside Out’s distinctly relaxed attitude works really well, creating a production that is in no way precious, and in every way a wonderful welcome to theatre.
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