Review written by Flossie Waite
Reviewed at the Southbank Centre, as part of Imagine Children’s Festival 2016
For ages 3+
The Secret Life of Suitcases is like an Aesop’s Fable for the internet generation. Whilst you might expect a children’s show to sneak in an educational message, The Secret Life is unusual in that it’s a cautionary tale for the grown-ups in the room rather than the kids. To children, this production is a funny foray into the world of office life, but to adults it’s a warning against prioritising work, set to a soundtrack of keyboard typing and phones ringing.
The central character, Larry – a long puppet with all his facial features bunched up in the top eighth of his face – happily taps away on his computer, quickly stamping and filing the documents that just keep coming in. So committed to his task is Larry that he can’t bear interruptions, blocking his office door and even hiding to avoid his co-workers. He is a man of few words, all delivered in a thick Mr-Bean-esque voice, and mostly just repeating the stock phrases of every over-worked yuppie: “very, very busy” and “done!” (interspersed with his trademark “hubbadeehoo, hubbadeehee!”)
Perhaps highlighting just how desperate the work-life balance crisis is, it takes something extraordinary and fantastical to remind Larry that extreme dedication to his job is essentially ruining his life. A magical flying suitcase, a race of “quantum mechanics” called Quarks, and a trip to space are, it turns out, an alternative to mindfulness colouring books and bikram yoga for the stressed-out city worker.
The two performers are consummate puppeteers, breathing life into Larry even when he’s performing deathly dull tasks. He moves with a believable fluidity, perhaps most impressive when he steps outside for the first time and, feeling the sun’s warmth, removes his suit jacket. The set, mostly fashioned from suitcases, is ingenious, and it is particularly fascinating to watch documents popping out of Larry’s desk to be put in their proper place. A lovely touch is that the performers form part of the scenery, changing their t-shirts to reflect the environment that Larry is in.
Who’d have thought that children would find a desk job so hilarious and captivating? Clearly the creative team know exactly what they’re doing, trusting a story that on paper sounds risky, but in their excellent execution is a real success.
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