Review by Flossie Waite
A Second Hand Dance Production in association with the Unicorn
Unicorn Theatre
15th – 31st January 2016
For ages 4+

My sister used to eat snails like they were boiled sweets, she had pockets filled with ladybirds to pop into her mouth like Smarties. I’d comb the earth outside our house for bugs and worms and keep them in jars, waking up in the middle of the night to find them sliming and crawling down the bedside table. Grass, and everything it contained, were at our level – child level – and when we weren’t tasting insects or keeping them captive, we were getting mucky inspecting everything the ground had to offer. Though we might have been slightly more carnivorous, I don’t think our experience was that different to most young people: from mud pies to dandelion clocks, it was always hands-on. It seems a missed opportunity, then, that Grass at the Unicorn Theatre is less direct exploration, and more straightforward education.

Screen Shot 2016-01-16 at 16.49.30It begins with Helena Webb and Keir Patrick interacting with the grass in a way that children will recognise – up close and personal, with one ear to the ground and both eyes on the lookout for treasure. They dance across it, their bodies moving into shapes that become recognisable as bugs and beasts. But this promising start is superseded by a calm female voice listing facts, while projections of insects crawl across the set and walls. The narration is interspersed by different scenes illustrating different lessons; the show’s structure settles into something like a children’s science programme. Even if this is pastiche, it’s a joke that only the adults will get, and there are a few references that seem aimed only at the older members of the audience. We learn, for instance, that earthworms are 1000 times stronger than humans, as the performers depict worms training a la Rocky to ‘Eye of the Tiger’.

Grass covers roughly 20% of the earth’s surface, and about 90% of The Unicorn stage. After 45 minutes of watching performers clamber over it, whisper to it, listen to it, of hearing a voiceover tell you facts about it, of listening to people describe the joys of lying across it, all you want to do is touch it, to feel it under your feet and between your toes. No such luck in a production that appeals to the senses, then satisfies them in only a perfunctory way. There’s a Stay and Play session at the end using a few pieces of the set, but it’s rather like being shown pictures of a cake, and then being given a biscuit  (or, in my sister’s case, being shown pictures of a snail and then being given an ant).

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