Choreographed by Joêl Daniel and Wilkie Branson
Travelling Light and Bristol Old Vic
Unicorn Theatre (The Clore)

Wilkie Branson and Joêl Daniel Credit: Helen Murray
Joêl Daniel and Wilkie Branson Credit: Helen Murray
Joêl Daniel and Wilkie Branson Credit: Helen Murray
Wilkie Branson and Joêl Daniel Credit: Helen Murray

This lively piece was created some years ago but it is still delightfully fresh and seems new-minted for every performance. It last 45 minutes, well timed for the audiences of three years old and up at which it is aimed. There is very little dialogue and it is also perfectly suited for deaf children without the need for any signing or titling.

It’s all about bedtime. As it happens, a particular bedtime, Christmas Eve, but (Christmas stockings apart) it could be any bedtime when someone has got too excited to get to sleep.

Wilkie and Joêl are two boys in pyjamas who bounce into their bedroom. They have a great big bed and that’s all that’s there really. It is set in the middle of the floor, in the middle of the audience. Both the floor and their duvet are covered with scribbling, blue and red scrawls like those made when you haven’t really learned to write yet; they’re over everything except the blue sheet stretched on top of the mattress.

The boys both remember it is teeth cleaning time and get busy with their brushes. They rinse and gargle and noisily spit out (into dark in the corners where you can’t actually see if there is a sink there). The audience laugh, they like that, they are already identifying, already engaged even before Joêl and Wilkie hang up their stockings ready for Santa in the hope he may fill them. They fetch toys to cuddle, their favourites: a teddy and a panda, and then they are ready to climb into bed.

But Joêl is restless, he is soon up again and so is Wilkie, bouncing around, joshing each other, checking the socks to see if Santa has been yet. Joêl plays a trick on Wilkie, there’s a chase and a pillow fight, coloured lights in the dark and a game blowing a feather before Wilkie can get Joêl off to sleep again.

What makes this extra special is that both the performers are b-boying dancers: the whole thing is played out as spirited breakdance, not just going "Boing! Boing!" as they bounce on the bed but leaping and spinning, somersaults and twisting all over. It makes it all very exciting.

Joêl Daniel and Wilkie Branson share that gift that comes to some performers to recapture childhood. Looks of surprise and of wonder that come into their eyes and make you believe that they really are children. The young in the audience identify, their faces show them totally caught up in the action, the accompanying adults get a glimpse of the child’s world when no grown-ups are thought to be watching; the expression on a face that fears that some harm maybe done to their teddy bear is suddenly tremendously moving. These aren’t just athletic dancers but excellent actors.

This is the simplest of ideas done beautifully under Sally Cookson’s direction and it is delightful.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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