Few people like tidying up. Whether it’s a child instructed to clean their room or a scatterbrain at work asked to introduce some order to their desk-space, tidying is rarely undertaken joyfully. There were a couple of moments about 30 years ago that almost convinced us otherwise: Mrs Doutbfire with her hoover, and the Shake n’ Vac lady with her famous wiggle, set the bar for showing the glee that can be got from a good clean. Then Tidy Up came along, and left us pining for our Marigolds and longing for our feather duster.
Despite their recent dalliance with adaptation (Han’s Christian Andersen’s The Tin Soldier), Peut-Être’s Tidy Up is closer to the company’s 2015 production Shh… Bang!, a wordless, interactive, non-narratival exploration of the relationship between sound and movement, that revels in every Velcro rip and each sweet wrapper rustle. Their latest show, developed with families as part of Great Ormond Street Hospital’s GOSH Arts, is a joyful, haphazard examination of tidiness: a surreal slapstick dance sketch show with the aesthetic of a ‘60s talkshow, and the humour of Green Wing.
The choreography and performances combine extreme talent with imaginative, silly fun. Charlie Hendren, for instance, conjures the spirit of Fred Astaire’s famous dance with a hatstand, in his routine with a vacuum cleaner – Hendren’s balletic skills and comedic timing are perfect partners. Each of the performers – Hendren, Maya Politaki, and Anna Woolhouse – is like some delightful cross between Darcey Bussell and Barry Chuckle: accomplished athletes who also just love mucking about. Mirroring the chaos and order under investigation in this show about tidiness, some of the dancers’ movements are tightly controlled and perfectly synchronised, while others are messy and anarchic, with the audience both captivated by their gymnastics and tickled by their antics.
The show creates both an appreciation of messiness, and a powerful love of order and things being in their right place. Following the performers’ delightfully frenzied session scattering fluffy coloured pompoms across the stage, the now pleasingly unkempt space needs a tidy, and the young audience are on hand to help. The children descend on the clean-up with substantially more alacrity and eagerness than anyone who has asked a young person to brush their teeth or put their toys away might expect. The mass mess-removal lasts a good few minutes – long enough for us to wonder how on earth the performers will coral the youngsters back into their seats – but we needn’t have worried: the moment everything is cleared up, the children quickly and efficiently tidy themselves away, back into the auditorium.
Like Shh…Bang!, Tidy Up feels like a party – a jubilant celebration of the everyday. Peut-Être have a great knack for casting fresh eyes on supposedly commonplace concepts, encouraging an imaginative curiosity in their audience that they can take with them after the show.
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