Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Drum

Tim Webb
Oily Cart
Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, Studio and touring
(2010)

Drum production photo

Drum is an hour long show created for tiny tots. It is intended for an audience aged from six-months old up to two and is absolutely delightful. If you have a child that age and are anywhere near one of their performances, take them to see it. If you don't have tots of your own, then borrow one or put on your babygro and go in disguise because I don't see how you can't love it as much as every child in the Lyric audience clearly did.

It is not a play, there is no real narrative but a series of visual and sensory experiences to share that made up one of the happiest hours I have ever spent.

You sit on cushions on a red circle of carpet in front of three big drums standing on their edges. Of course, there is lots of drumming, on these and on tam tams and other little drums. After the three members of the company have said hello and introduced themselves with their exotic multi-syllable names, which they encourage you to repeat, there is a shadow puppet baby waving hello on the skin of the centre drum and doing actions for everyone to do along with it: hand-waving, head-shaking, foot-tapping and dancing if you are big enough to stand up on your own.

A live-actor shadow, with feathers falling from the sky on another drum, leads into a feather sequence, the performers reaching out with the huge red feathers that form a feature of the setting, to tickle the audience with individual feathers being distributed to all the children, A long feather boas grows in shadow form, then falls over a drum and is drawn over the audience and back again - more sensory stimulation - and yes, everyone is happy when they do it again.

Now the puppet baby is back dancing on another drum, with shadow bubbles falling around it . those bubbles then come floating as real bubbles over the drum until the air is full them, big ones, then tiny ones, then the performers start to create pillars of bubbles and make them grow from the children's hands while a shadow figure on one of the drums plays a marimba.

A drum is rolled on its edge and a performer finds herself balanced on top of it. Look! She's flying! With one of the big thumps on the central drum (and a precise eye-contact with the audience) that mark the opening of each new section of the entertainment, we are told it is time to play. One drum is laid flat on the ground, lights that keep changing colour shine from beneath it and everyone is invited to come and play on it. Large seeds or bead-like shapes are scattered on it and bounce into the air each time it is struck. While everyone is occupied with that another drum is laid out where the cushions were with its open side uppermost to form a sort of play pen and the third drum placed flat in the middle.

Now balls are bounced from the middle drum into the cavity of the other and soon there are three things to do: bounce seeds on one drum, play rhythms with the percussionist on another or submerge yourself among the balls inside the third.

I know! It sounds so simple but it is totally engaging; full of sensory experience, human contact, gorgeous sounds and shaped so that it matches a relatively short concentration span with something new just when you need it. . I have to confess that I can't stand the Teletubbies with their squeaky nonsense and I went to see this somewhat sceptically, purely out of a professional interest, and am so glad that I did.

Usifu Jalloh on the big drum, mbira and marimba is a great percussionist, charming singer and perfect at engaging with this young audience, and Lucy Angell John and Lindsay Stockley operate the puppets, make the bubbles and all the other things. They are a splendid team who share the fun with their audience. Meticulously planned and delightfully performed, there is nothing condescending about this show. It is carefully designed to match its very young audience's interest in new experiences but the adults were loving it just as much as the little ones they were accompanying.

The company also stages slightly different versions of this show which are designed for youngsters with profound and multiple learning disabilities or an autistic spectrum disorder, but these are not open to the general public. For the public version audiences are kept small in size, not more than thirty, because close interaction is essential for them to give full value. Only a few dates have been announced over the coming months. With so few places available book your child in now, and if they are not coming anywhere near you contact them through their website www.oilycart.org.uk to see if they might visit later.

Ended at Lyric Hammersmith. Forthcoming: Philharmonie, Luxembourg 25th-29th October; Tara Studio, London 22nd-26th March; Horse and Bamboo Theatre, Lancs. 3rd April; Stratford Circus, London 9th April 2010.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton