bOing! International Family Festival 2018

Reviewed by Flossie Waite

I’m lying in a hammock, swinging gently from side to side, while Bodil Alling recounts the tale of Androcles, the slave who escapes to the desert to avoid being thrown to the lions. Trickling water, sweeping sands, looming shadows and sparkling stars are cleverly projected onto the canopy overhead. Below, the sounds of birdsong and buzzing flies, marching soldiers and jeering crowds, evoke Ancient Rome. It’s like the very best bedtime story; calm, quiet, intimate and intense, you can almost feel the audience’s breath and heart beats slowing and synchronising as we rock to and fro in the dark. Immersive, ambitious and visually stunning, Teatret Gruppe 38 and Carte Blanche’s Androcles and the Lion is the perfect introduction to this year’s bOing! International Family Festival.

Androcles and the Lion

Entering Katena Luminarium is like falling down the rabbit hole: inside is a kaleidoscopic burrow of winding paths and little alcoves, particularly perfect for young children to explore, though everywhere adults are taking selfies. Architects of Air’s sculptures, long-time favourites at festivals across the country, bring light, music and shapes together to create an experience that is a bit like being in the womb, or travelling through capillaries, or sitting at the centre of a prism refracting light into radiant colour. In many ways, the structure is akin to a cathedral: the soaring domes feature cut-out patterns glowing with colour like the stained glass in Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. It’s compared most often to a bouncy castle by the young audiences around me at bOing!. Katena Luminarium is as fun as it is beautiful, and as full of wonder as it is perfect to play in, briefly whisking audiences away from the University of Kent’s campus to another, more colourful, more curious, world.

Katena Luminarium. Photo: John Owens

Speaking of transporting audiences, there are a couple of brilliant, vehicle-based shows at this year’s bOing!. Spanish company Cia de Teatre Anna Roca are travelling the world in a lorry to share The Secret of Nanna: only a small handful of people at a time are invited inside to find out what it is. A good portion of the show’s delight comes from the mystery beforehand – waiting outside, wondering what’s going to happen, straining to hear any sounds that might provide clues, and carefully reading the faces of departing audiences – followed afterwards by the satisfaction of being in on the secret. With this in mind, I’m hesitant to say too much, other than that The Secret of Nanna, a show that literally begins with a hug and lasts only 10 minutes, is a short and sweet journey through imagination.

The Secret of Nanna

Then there’s the Campervan of Love, New Art Club’s show ostensibly based on the myth of Cupid and Psyche, though a sequential storyline is not necessarily the point of this bizarre, hilarious piece. Tom Roden and Pete Shenton are a Flight of the Conchords-esque double-act, driving around in their borrowed pink van looking for love. It’s a trip that takes them both under the sea and into the underworld (where nothing grows except loneliness… and broccoli), though no matter where they go, a dancing baby doll will always find them. It really is totally random and completely glorious.

Campervan of Love

From a van, to a car park, which is where French company Dyptik perform their hip hop dance performance D-Construction. The audience is separated by metal scaffolding, staring at each other through the chain-link fence in this show about division and revolt, political stasis and public unity. It’s a powerful image that conjures up border walls, detention centres and cages. The barriers are eventually overcome and the audience brought together in this thrilling, dynamic production, offering, perhaps, a glimmer of hope in our grim political landscape.

D-Construction

D-Construction is not the only show to call to mind current events: women in identical, white wide-hooped skirts dancing under a 16ft inflatable man make for an arresting and intriguing sight in Start Stomping, Moving Memory Dance Theatre Company and Intergren31’s exploration of power, male-dominated society and the status quo. There’s more dance with Stopgap Dance Company’s lovely Bill and Bobby: after a night on the town, two tipsy strangers dance together across the bathroom tiles, in a love letter to the golden age of Hollywood.

This is only a slice of what’s on offer, but it demonstrates the festival’s compelling mix of immersive installation and pop-up performance, international and UK-based work, that keeps audiences of all ages returning to bOing! each year.

Children’s Theatre Reviews exists to help plug the gap in criticism and writing about theatre for young audiences. It is run entirely voluntarily, and needs support to continue covering and supporting the sector. For more information and to help give children’s theatre the voice it deserves, please visit our Patreon page.

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