Images: Dylan Evans
Let me get one thing out of the way up front. I’m not at all keen on shows where adults play kids. The sight of 20-somethings leaping around pretending to be children can be embarrassingly awful, twee, and an insult to kids who just don’t behave the way they are often portrayed on stage. I wondered how kids felt about this and thought about sending along another reviewer to get a different perspective. However, Miss 8 was not available for the opening night of Shake and Stir’s Out Damn Snot directed by Ross Balbuziente. That left me to face my misgivings. Whilst I still think there’s a missed opportunity here to use children to play children in plays for children (some company care to have a go?) there is no doubt that this hilarious, very physical, beautiful-looking show written and created by Shake and Stir’s artistic directors Ross Balbuziente, Nelle Lee and Nick Skubij is great fun for kids and their adults.
I wasn’t sure what the kids in the audience would make of the two sisters Mackenzie (Amy Ingram), Kimmy (Nelle Lee) and little brother Heath (Nick Skubij). Given that they knew the actors were grown-ups, would they buy into the game that these were kids like them? Given their own capacity to role play on the fly, I’d say the young audience were perfectly accepting of these mad adults releasing their own inner kids and mucking about cartoon-style in a magic world. Buy this and it becomes a different experience. I really did enjoy the simplicity of the actors’ child-like (not childish) observations of game-playing and one-upmanship. My favourite is the one where we both try to tell a story simultaneously; you start and I have to join in and do it with you. Know the one? Magic! Ms Lee and Ingram release their inner-child with this lovely little slick schtick.
The play really gets going when the bossy Mackenzie and clever Kimmy and their annoying little brother – who is teeming with cold germs – find themselves one hot afternoon transported from their own backyard and play-pool into Heath’s snot-laden nose. What? How can they ALL be in his nose if he’s in there too, I hear you cry? Ah, via magic and a little bit of meta-theatrical cheek delivered deadpan straight out front. Magic, see? Theatre’s like that.
And speaking of theatre, of course, you don’t chant spells from that Scottish play around a cauldron (the plastic play-pool), toss in lots of weird stuff and expect not to have something weird happen. By the way, loved how little threads from Shakespeare’s plays appear unexpectedly from time to time in lines, characters’ names and action; you’d expect that from Shake and Stir, and they weave some more theatrical magic into the mix. But, back to Heath’s nasal passages – as a sequence of odd fairy types (all played delightfully and with amazingly fast turn-around time by Leon Cain) appear to help the kids reverse the spell, the weird stuff just keeps coming. When things got a bit problematical for the intrepid trio, I heard a young theatre sophisticate sitting behind me whisper, ‘They do realise they are in their own backyard, don’t they mummy?’ Well, yes and no – that ‘magic’ again.
OK, cut to the chase, the play follows the quest formula: the three kids have to succeed at the tasks assigned them by the Booger Bum Fairy in order to find their way back home to the backyard. They have to find some odd characters, and learn the routines of a magic dance. Cue Macbreath B Stinky, Picka D Nose Thump soul Snot, and the Lady of the Nose Flake (Mr Cain on roller blades – a treat). Cooperation and kindness, not to mention lots of smarts from Kimmie, the smart kid, are what win the day and, eventually, they are returned home safely. But not before a whole lot of madness, music, dance and slime provide the show’s great entertainment value. It’s loud, gross, fast-moving under director Ross Balbuziente’s direction, and very, very theatrical. Did I mention energetic? The house, dear reader, rocked!
Design by Josh McIntosh is spot on in its playfulness. Costumes are terrific but it’s his slime pit that is a ghastly wonder to behold. Saturated in green (what else) by lighting designer Jason Glenwright, the slop rains down from buckets overhead much to the delight of kids and adults alike. Seems we are never too young for a bit of schadenfreude.
I spoke before the show with gun sound designer and composer Guy Webster. He had turned over the choice of pre-show tracks to his young son. As these played I became aware that the kids around me were singing along. There are lyrics too? Then, and quite unbidden, they were on their feet and giving the packed house a rendition of Gangnam Style. It set the mood for the rest of the night. Very cool, kids.
Out Damn Snot plays at La Boite’s Roundhouse Theatre until Saturday 19th January. There are plenty of matinees, so check the showtimes.