Oily Cart: The Art of the Cart Exhibition

16th – 22nd May 2015, as part of Wandsworth Art Festival

Few companies will ever receive the praise heaped on Oily Cart. Lyn Gardner said of them, “There are good theatre companies, and there are great theatre companies. There are great theatre companies, and there is Oily Cart.” Displaying their archive to the public for the first time, Oily Cart: The Art of the Cart is a chance to explore how they (and specifically, magnificent designer Claire de Loon) make their magic.

Oily Cart have been making theatre for almost thirty-five years, ‘for the very young and young people with profound and multiple learning disabilities.’ With this audience in mind, they create multi sensory environments and interactive performances, and design is absolutely central to each production. Take their recent show, There Was An Old WomanNot only do shoes appear everywhere – they are the bows on hats, they are necklaces, a character arrives in a giant shoe car – but each child is given a shoe to carry with them, and use, throughout. There are things to touch, lots to smell and ways to join in, all within a carefully crafted (and completely cohesive) world thanks to designer Claire de Loon.

These productions are rich with detail, so this latest exhibition is a wonderful opportunity to take a closer look at the costumes, puppets, instruments, props and sets of shows dating back many years, along with archival footage, photos and posters. Not only that, but the accompanying information gives further details on the reasoning behind aesthetic choices, and explains some of the ways Oily Cart make accessible work, such as the preparation resources they send out prior to performances.

As well as reflecting on past productions, the exhibition looks forward to the next piece, Light ShowAbsolutely unique in design, completely innovative in method, but totally in keeping with the company’s ‘distinctive aesthetic’, it is exciting to get a sneak peek at the light boxes and puppet that will be used in this piece. Oily Cart: The Art of the Cart is a real treat for anyone interested in theatre, children’s theatre, set design or theatre history, and simply fascinating for everyone else; it’s hard to imagine a more fun, colourful, happy collection.

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