Early in Mojo, the new show from Theatre-Rites, Leo Altarelli blows his trumpet, and bubbles cross the black backdrop in response.
They’re joined by cones – Altarelli briefly uses one as a mute – which join with a square to become an animated creature. As it scuttles up and down, adults and children in the audience coo at this new personality, created out of nowhere.
Mojo is about personality and growing up. Directed by Sue Buckmaster and choreographed by Arthur Pita, the team who created Theatre-Rites’ award-winning Mischief, it mixes music, dance and puppetry in a colourful show for family audiences.
It opens with Adriano Adewale rattling a tambourine, summoning the other performers out of the audience and sending them through a changing doorway. It’s a distinctive introduction for each performer, everyone finding their own response to the beat. One starts by copying the others, but it’s not until he finds his own dance that he gets through.
The puppet baby goes through a similar process. The human performers gather round it, cooing even more than the audience did, becoming its family. As the baby girl makes her first steps, they’re delighted and encouraging, with a dash of panic when she loses her balance or gets too close to the edge.
As the little girl grows into bigger, more sophisticated puppets, encouragement and protectiveness become more limiting. A stomping group dance gets too loud for the adults. The teenaged puppet, slouched in her new hoodie, insists on wearing shorter skirts. Her family tut and worry, then come to accept that she’s grown up.
Pita and Buckmaster are sympathetic to both sides. You can understand both the growing girl’s frustration, and her family’s worries for her. With puppet designer Michael Fowkes, they make her development cleverly unpredictable. When she hits adolescence, she starts unfolding on stage, legs and torso shooting up under her surprised parents’ gaze.
The more abstract sequences are weaker. Adewale interacts with a stylised puppet that might be a version of himself. Bright lights outline doors that grow and shrink. In one overlong number, the performers leap around Peter Mumford’s sloping set, diving in and out of cupboards hidden in its surface.
Puppets and people react vividly, playing games or surprising each other. Sometimes Pita and Buckmaster overegg the jollity, with some exaggerations in the celebrations and music games, but they create lovely group dynamics. In the big quarrels, people argue in individual ways. The mother figure takes longest to recover, which makes her reconciliation with her daughter the most touching.
Until 31 December. Box office 020 7638 8891.