Flat Pack

Reviewed by Flossie Waite
Presented by OH! Productions

Reviewed at Watermans Arts Centre
For ages 4+

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 21.46.47It would take an extremely cultured 3-year-old to know who Buster Keaton is, so any children’s play inspired by him would be wise to make sure that the gags work without prior knowledge. OH! Productions latest show is an homage to the legendary comedian’s 1920 film One Week: whilst it can definitely stand alone, Flat Pack still sits best if you’re in on the joke.

On paper, a production influenced by silent comedies makes sense – visual humour, in particular slapstick, plays well with young audiences, and often theatre for this age range is wordless. And Flat Pack isn’t alone, other companies have tried this approach – Told By An Idiot’s absurdist sketch show, Get Happychanneled Charlie Chaplin. But these shows are forced to tread a fine line between appealing to the uninitiated and including references for the more familiar – and they do have to include references, otherwise why mention a muse at all? – creating immediate boundaries that smother a supposedly madcap show.

Though Flat Pack parodies a silent film – complete with wonderful live piano accompaniment – the creatives understand that this medium can only get the story so far. On a couple of occasions, recorded voiceovers move matters along, explaining the show’s premise: two newly-weds (Oliver Harrison and Sophie Powell) are building the flat pack home they have received as a wedding gift. There are other times when verbal communication would have made things a lot easier – the action occasionally shifts from the performers to puppets, though it isn’t always clear that they are supposed to be one and the same.

In particular, it is a shame to limit Harrison’s communication with the audience – whilst his interactions with the first few rows were certainly some of the funniest moments, they didn’t match his turn as a cheeky and exuberant chef in Signor Baffo’s Restaurant, a highlight of 2015. Still, unlike Get Happy which took its young audience for granted, Flat Pack feels like an admirable experiment attempting to bring its young audience something new.

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