Only the imagination of Gruff Rhys could have come up with this singular show. He expands his 2007 album Candylion into a psychedelic fable - for all the family! Billed by National Theatre Wales as a “theatre gig”, live music propels the story, with the audience standing or moving about the space.
We’re in Pixel Valley, where hybrid creatures – Candylion, Polarpear, Meringueutan – happily gather pixel fruit. But after the Candylion swallows some negative vibes, she begins to grow – and get nasty. The pink creature (played with winning childish stroppiness by Remy Beasley) turns into a tyrannical “Turbo Capitalist”, forcing the others to work in her candy factory. Only Caruin – a carnation penguin, obviously! – resists. After an epic journey to the land of the Cone People, he returns to persuade Candylion – swollen into an enormous, inflatable set of jaws – that it’s better to share.
The word ‘surreal’ is liberally used today – but Candylion really, genuinely is. It’s delightful – and should delight kids.
Rhys came up with the show after noticing children were coming to the Candylion album tour, clearly responding to the twee plinky-plonk or gently driving rhythms of his songs. Still, I’ll have to take his word for it – I see one of the ‘after-dark’ shows, with an adult audience; we get an extra “theatrical encore”, his 20-minute song ‘Skylon’, guest starring Charlotte Church no less.
But the play’s main, archly anti-capitalist allegory certainly works for adults; indeed, there are elements that are really more for groovy parents than kids. But the underlying story and message – be inclusive; don’t be greedy – is definitely child-friendly.
They even find some cute ways to explain economic principles: if the irony of a dance number about the “trickle down” effect flies over little heads, the concept is then explained, revealing with childish simplicity the injustice of the theory. “I have the jar – and you have the drips”, says Candylion. “Can’t we just share what’s in the jar?” questions Caruin. Get ‘em young, Gruff!
The music is a delight – as a high-concept gig, The Insatiable, Inflatable Candylion is a roaring success. Rhys narrates in his inimitably zoned-out, meandering style, and leads a super-group featuring Sweet Baboo, Lisa Jen Brown from 9Bach, and Kliph Scurlock from the Flaming Lips. He even conducts a conga round the venue in a tiny wooden car.
But that moment aside, the hangar-like space doesn’t do them any favours. It felt under-filled, the 360-degree staging over-stretching the core cast of six – and the budget. It might have worked if they could bring on a big chorus; instead, the energy too often dissipated, sliding from anarchic into shambling.
Not that there isn’t a coherent vision here: the hybrids’ costumes are fab, and Wils Wilson’s production is clever in its use of bubblegum cartoon stylings – we enjoy the sugar rush, while also recognising that this shiny, pester-power pink is its own capitalist coating. But while Candylion may have an easy-to-swallow message, delivered in Rhys’ deliriously odd signature style, when the sugar-high wears off you’re left hungry for something a bit more substantial.
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