BOING!, Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler’s Wells, London

 

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The Independent Culture

BOING!, the new Christmas show from Travelling Light and Bristol Old Vic, has a brilliant connection with its child audience. From the beginning, five-year-olds were absorbed and giggly. When the performers suggested they help catch a thrown teddy bear, whole rows stood up as one, determined to be ready.

Children's theatre specialist Sally Cookson directs Wilkie Branson and Joel Daniel of Champloo Dance Company, who choreograph as well as performing. They play two brothers on Christmas Eve, already sent to bed but far too excited to sleep.

The show is performed in the round, on a square, very bouncy bed. In Katie Sykes’ set design, there are children’s felt-pen scribbles all over the bed frame and the floor underneath it. Washing lines of Christmas stockings surround the auditorium. There are low benches around the stage for children, and chairs behind them for adults.

Cookson and the dancers fill the show with simple incident, performed with gusto and child-friendly jokes. The young audience was enchanted when Joel and Wilkie clean their teeth with audible gargles. The boys go through careful bedtime rituals, checking their Christmas stockings, finding their teddies and getting under the covers – only to twitch and fidget once they’ve got there.

Wilkie is the more serious brother, sometimes teased by Joel, who finds it even harder to go to sleep. As they bounce on and off the bed, they make gentle use of street dance acrobatics, with a B-boy twist to many of their moves. The acrobatics are always there to tell a story, with a nice sense of sibling rivalries and disagreements. They steal each other’s toys, sulk and make up, or get sidetracked into games. They check their stockings repeatedly, only to find that Father Christmas still hasn’t visited.

Cookson and the dancers take themes and build them up with repetition, making the show both lucid and energetic. A game of throw and catch with teddies becomes a game with the audience, before the teddies are carefully rocked to sleep. In another sequence, the brothers develop superheroes out of bedclothes, with Pillow Man saving Sheet Man from an evil teddy bear nemesis. 

It’s a cleverly paced show, moving between elaborate sequences and simpler material. Unable to sleep, the brothers kick around on the bed, stealing the duvet from each other or pushing their bottoms in the air, to the utter delight of every child in the theatre. BOING! is a fresh, friendly children’s show, entirely in tune with its audience.

Until 31 December. Box office 0844 412 4300.

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