There Was An Old Woman

Review written by Flossie Waite
An Oily Cart Production in association with Southbank Centre
Southbank Centre
20th December –  24 December, 27th December – 31st December, 2nd – 4th January 2015
For ages 3-5

There Was An Old Woman is the type of production theatre-makers aspire to. No good idea is shied away from, no matter how tricky – introducing smell in to the space, letting the audience move around a lot, encouraging them to lie down under a duvet on a lavender pillow. The result is a carefully thought-through theatrical piece that is a privilege to experience.

This is a show about shoes – they’re all mixed up! A ballet pump and a boot, a flipper and a flip flop, everything is confused until the Shoe Lady arrives in her shoe car, collecting discarded shoes as beds for her shoe babies.

There Was An Old Lady is an experience and a journey (lasting almost an hour and a half, though it doesn’t feel it). The audience are active throughout – if they’re not moving, they’re smelling, dancing, lying down, listening to the live music, or helping to tell the story. The performance begins in the foyer, with a shoe-covered carpet to play on. Everyone is  given a shoe which they “drive” into the main performance space, taking them past the scent of Christmas tree branches (later, lavender and apples fill the air). As the Shoe Lady tries to find her way home, she meets a friendly bear and a sleepy woman who are keen to assist but don’t have the proper footwear – the audience find their shoes and slip them on.

The performers (Susannah Austin, Griff Fender, Lewis Floyd Henry and Ellie Griffiths) skilfully handle interaction in a relaxed environment that welcomes and inspires it. One girl was keen to talk to the characters and they weren’t afraid to enter in to a full conversation, expertly leading it back into the story. Throughout, they carefully made sure that each child had the opportunity to participate to whatever level they were comfortable with, making sure to spread themselves amongst the audience. An expert touch was having this as a main role for one of the performers, who introduced herself to each child in the foyer beforehand and played with them, then spent a lot of the production sat in amongst everyone, a now-familiar face to support the audience.

The set and costumes are very stylised, all black, white and red, and of course shoes are everywhere – they are the bows on the performers’ headgear, they are worn as necklaces, one even balances on the end of the musician’s guitar. There are small, almost unnoticeable, details like the chairs being draped with fabric hanging from the walls to maintain a cohesive aesthetic. The amazing attention to every element adds up to a lovingly made, and received, production; a shoe-in with audiences!

Image by Patrick Baldwin
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One response to “There Was An Old Woman

  1. Pingback: Oily Cart: The Art of the Cart Exhibition | Children's Theatre Reviews·

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