Jeramee Hartleby and Oooglemore

Gary Owen
Unicorn (Clore Theatre)

Dorian Simpson as Jeramee, Amalia Vitale as Hertleby and Fionn Gill as Oooglemore Credit: Richard Davenport
Amalia Vitale as Hartleby and Fionn Gill as Oooglemore Credit: Richard Davenport
Fionn Gill as Oooglemore, Dorian Simpson as Jeramee and Amalia Vitale as Hartleby Credit: Richard Davenport

Three actors and three words: the names of their characters, there’s no other dialogue. How they are said creates communication. That's all the audience (its aimed at 3 years old and up) needs to understand exactly what is going on.

There’s a yellow carpet stage (that stands for sand) then a blue carpet strip for the littlest ones to sit on at the front (that’s sea), strings of bright lights above, a drawn sun hanging in the sky—and a seagull. There’s a sign at one side that points towards the loos and at the other one refusing seagulls entry (some hope of that succeeding!).

We are at the beach and the lights haven’t yet dimmed before someone is making her way there. It’s Hartleby; we know because she says her name. She takes off her boots and goes down to test the water before taking a big beach towel out of her bag. It turns out it’s not just a towel but a hooded kind of coverall which she has some difficulty wriggling into. Is it because she’s a grown-up the audience finds it funny or because they all know the problem it can be to find an armhole?

Now she pulls out a swimsuit and pulls that on beneath her coverall. Why does it hold everyone’s attention? Is it because it’s something you aren’t supposed to watch?

Now someone calls her: “Hartleby!”

“Oooglemore?” she answers, and they exchange calls. We know who’s coming.

He’s tall, bearded and in a duffle coat: another grown up it seems but there is something about him rather twee. Their contact greeting develops into a pat-a-cake game. They seem more overgrown children, less adult by the minute.

Oooglemore has a big ball he rolls along and lets it roll down the beach slope into the audience sea, making them retreat before he rescues it, though some are brave enough to push it back. Throwing comes next, soon right into the audience and back until he throws too far and it gets swept out to sea. He’s got binoculars and watches it go. Now they roll each other instead.

When Hartleby won’t let him have her towel robe, Oooglemore begins to blubber but she soon shuts him up—first with her hand then popping a lollipop in his mouth. That pacifies him until a seagull steals his lollipop.

Oooglemore wants to get his duffel coat off but can’t undo the toggles. Hartleby has found an inflatable ball and tries to blow it up. But soon there is help on hand for here is Jeramee. He’s big and black in Hawaii shirt and shorts, bow tie and white hat (though socks as well as sandals do let down his look) and a big smile. He sorts them out (and they put up the deck chair that gives him so much trouble).

Jeramee settles in his chair with his newspaper (muttering their names as though he’s reading) and for a while there is no physical action. Some youngsters find this boring and it loses their attention but there’s plenty more action coming.

Oooglemore needs to wee wee (yes the audience likes that, though it’s a stylized presentation) then he’s taught to swim with water wings and goggles (one lad in the audience mimes his own breast stroke), there’s a picnic, a game of monsters, a storm that blows a big umbrella away, the sound of huge waves crashing on the shore, a blue balloon that floats into the sky and more.

Now Jeramee begins a game with an imaginary ball that develops into being racing horses and then Owen Crouch’s sound design provides a lively Portuguese song and it turns into a sprightly dance that all can join in. Sighted out at sea, the big lost ball is returning and that’s soon bouncing between stage and audience before the trio make their farewells.

Jeramee, Hartleby and Oooglemore is a splendid demonstration of how easy communication can be if both parties want it, you don’t have to have a shared vocabulary. The performers Amalia Vitale, Dorian Simpson and Fionn Gill convey all kinds of meanings with tone, inflexion and a little body language. They make a subtle transition from adulthood to childhood with Jeramee, becoming almost a child playing at being an adult.

Gary Owen, with his three word lexicon, contrives to tell a quite complex story of a happy day spent on the beach and Tim Crouch’s direction, apart from that one brief hiatus, hones the timing and action to be continually engaging—helped of course by the colourful simplicity of Lily Arnold’s setting and the quirkiness of her costumes.

I found it odd that Hartleby keeps on clothing underneath her swimwear but perhaps that emphasised the make-believe element of theatre and helped stimulate the youngsters’ imagination.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton