When your audience’s main source of income is the tooth fairy, how do you educate them about money and the impact of the financial crisis? 10, 000 real pound coins, a gameshow and plenty of participation is Unlimited Theatre’s answer, in their latest touring production, Play Dough.
Hosts Queenie (Tessa Parr) and TwoMuch (Stuart Ryan) split the audience into two teams to compete in lively interactive games, with young people from each side welcomed onstage as opposing contenders. As they battle it out, their focused minds are probably unaware that each round offers both educational value, as well as a chance at glory for the winning team. Tasks like scooping piles of pound coins into buckets and transferring them into a suitcase as quickly as possible are cleverly linked to financial issues, and introduce terms such as betting, currency, and hedging.
This spirited competition is juxtaposed with the tale of Queenie’s life and her sad search for her father, as she struggles to find out how her family lost their money – like many, they fell on hard times following the financial crisis of 2008. This dramatic change in fortunes is illustrated with a visit to her aunt and cousin’s run-down flat in Edinburgh, a world away from Queenie’s privileged upbringing in Notting Hill. Quieter moments of duologue give insight into the characters’ backgrounds and experiences, and these reflective scenes provide some important context for the piece.
The play’s key strength is the energy of its performers, who keep the pace up and the audience constantly engaged. Parr and Ryan are extremely likeable and genuine, and build a rapport with the young audience from the outset – greeting them as they arrive (Parr impressively memorises children’s names!), befriending them with enthusiasm, and encouraging them to join in. Throughout, Parry and Ryan talk directly to the audience, which helps young people watching feel involved (rather than impartial) and begin to understand the relevance of what’s on stage to their own lives – even if for now they’ve only got 50p in a piggy bank to their name.
Tackling such a substantial topic, Play Dough is necessarily informative, and though it borders on lecturing at times, on the whole the production is delivered in a fun way. Children are educated unwittingly – a clever concept ensures that young audiences are both entertained, and empowered with knowledge, without them even realising.