Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

The Flying Machine

Phil Porter
Unicorn Theatre
(2008)

This show, aimed at youngsters of seven years old and up, is preceded by some ominous ticking, or is it water drops, as everyone waits eager for it to begin? Then it opens with some snatches of bouzouki music, to call up sunny Zakinthos where Nurse Cakebread (Maggie O'Brien) is about to go on holiday - and does in her imagination. Cakebread switches from being kindly carer to stern dictator. She keeps the children's operations ward of St Ruth's Eye Hospital firmly under her thumb. To begin with it has only two patients: Munib (Daniel Naddafy), who still has both eyes bandaged, and Peeka (Beverley Denim), with a dressing on one eye. They have been there for ages and have adapted to their situation, living by the rules and grateful for the few 'privileges' they get. Munib makes origami animals and birds and Peeka is constructing an entire model town from the fluff found underneath their beds. But they have a mystery they need to solve: Why, 54 days ago, did the parents of both of them stop coming to see them?

When a new patient arrives, Bonyek, who is not used to this rigorous discipline, it is only minutes after the children are left alone before he is taking them on an imaginary adventure. The are off in the good ship 'Pilgrim 9' to feed hungry dolphins, tossed on the back of a huge whale, shipwrecked by storm on a desert island - till nurse returns and catches them with a sheet flying as a sail above a bed and the ward in chaos.

She may put a stop to that imaginary adventure but Bonyek has a real one in store, his brother Royston, drowned in a river when Bonyek failed to save him, was at the hospital before and while there he started to build a flying machine and left its parts hidden around the grounds. Now all three of them can put it together and take off to solve the mystery of the parents. If only it were that easy!

As the action moves from an imaginary ocean to a very real deluge, the ensuing battle of wits between children and authority expands to explore relationships between the children: matters of trust, loyalty and guild; handling bossy-boot peers as well as adult manipulation. It gets considerable impetus from the lively playing, especially Toyin Omari-Kinch's Brummagem- tinged Bonyek who bounds effortlessly over obstacles as large as beds while subtly suggesting his own discomfort. Cakebread, oscillating from nice to nasty, becomes a bit of a caricature but that stops her from being too frightening - for if any child takes this ward seriously it might but them off going through hospital doors for ever, though on another level it can be a metaphor for all adult behaviour to children. One of the children's punishments is wearing 'itchy pyjamas.' Surprisingly, in the interest of keeping the action moving, they end up going home in them - though we are not expected to notice. I'm sure the young audience with me didn't; they were far too caught up in the story which is directed by Rosamunde Hurt and designed by Jane Linz Roberts.

At Unicorn 2nd May - 1st June 2008
Tuesday - Sunday various times on different days 10.30, 11.00, 1.15, 2.30, 3.00
Intended for an audience aged 7+

Reviewer: Howard Loxton