Oily Cart beginnings

"The Oily Cart company was formed in 1981. Max Reinhardt, our musical director, Claire de Loon, our designer, and I met up when we were all working at Battersea Arts Centre. The name, of course, is a jokey reference to Richard D’Oyly Carte’s Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company—we were initially going to do some spoofs of D’Oyly Carte shows such as Parrots of Penzance in 1984—and we also owned a very old leaky van, so it fitted in various ways.

"When we started there was nothing much for young children except party entertainers. A lot of people were saying to us you can’t do shows for under-fives because they’ve got a very short attention span. They are afraid of their own shadow, they want to get up and go to the loo all the time. You can’t do proper theatre for them.

"But we could see from the companies we had worked with before and our own work that if you did the right stuff that the worries people had about communicating with very young audiences were unnecessary, were unfounded. Even now people used to mainstream audiences take a look at the autistic spectrum children we are performing to today and think it’s going to be impossible to do a show for them—but it is just a case of doing the right kind of material and then you can communicate.

"We began by producing work that had strong visual and multi-sensory elements, still at the heart of what we do, and learned from our experience. We were creating shows for the under-fives when we were approached by the head of a school for young people with severe learning disabilities who had heard about our work. He believed his pupils would enjoy the mixture of the highly visual, live music and comedy and asked if we could give them a performance. His pupils ranged from 4–19 years old and we wondered how appropriate material created for under-fives would be for the older pupils.

"He believed that his pupils would appreciate the highly visual, fast-moving nature of our shows, the comedy and the live music. He told us that our audience was between four and nineteen years old and we wondered how our under-fives shows could be age-appropriate for any eighteen- or nineteen-year-old. So, we asked if we could work with his young people and staff to make a show that was truly suitable for them."