Stratford Circus, 28th May 2015
Slipping off my shoes and cosying up under the covers for the world premiere of Upswing‘s latest production Bedtime Stories, I revel in the decadence of getting into bed in the middle of the day. If all theatre visits were this comfy, I’d barely be able to keep away.
Bedtime Stories is a touching tale of navigating the distance that work and other interests put between us and the ones we love as Mum (Lewis Barfoot) and the Little Girl (Hazel Lam) prepare for sleep. The bed that takes up centre stage is surrounded on all sides by reflections of itself that the audience are invited to tuck themselves up inside by gentle ushers in soft grey bunny onesies.
I am not the target audience for this show – I neither am nor own any small children. And yet… this is one of the most endearing pieces of theatre I have ever had the privilege to enjoy. Acrobalance and aerial skills are seamlessly woven into the fabric of the production, alongside fabulous projection mapped animations from SDNA and a toy-chest score from James Atherton. Combined with Becky Minto’s fresh design, these elements transport us to that place of childhood fantasy where the real world and the imaginative one can hardly be told apart.
The third performer, imaginary friend Three (Nathan Johnston), is the embodiment of the imaginative spirit, as he engages both Mum and the Little Girl in playful dance and discovery. The moving pieces of furniture that mark out Mum’s office and the bedroom swirl in the space, and the actors’ work in the round to excellent effect, keeping us all drawn in.
Under the direction of company founder Vicki Amedume, Upswing have produced a show that holds the fine balance of simplicity and detail that marks a superb children’s show. Running at 50 minutes, there is always something to delight and catch the eye and, when Mum is run ragged with stress, the poignancy that hits my 30-something heart is presented in a way that also engages the youngsters in another manner.
The actors are fully responsive to the vocal interjections from the young audience – and to the physical interjections as little hands scrabble for the paperwork that tumbles from the ceiling, scrunching it into snowballs. When the show ends (rather abruptly, I feel – although it seems perfectly expected by the families surrounding me. I suppose bedtime stories do tail off into sleep), the children gleefully fall into the playing space to assist the bunny ushers in the clear up duties as if this is part of the game.
If I didn’t know better, I would assume that Upswing were a long established children’s theatre company. The circus elements add to the magic but are used only when needed for expression of the story, and the long period of consultation and development with audiences and target demographic has paid great dividends.
Bedtime Stories is a fantastic experience for families to share and, during this run at Stratford Circus, is also followed by a workshop led by Amedume and Charline Kandilian that gently introduces some basic acrobalance techniques to be practised between parents or carers and children. This is not just a show, but a chance to take time to be together away from outside pressures.