Just Be You

Hannah Phillips
Mobilise Arts and Generation Q Collective
Birmingham mac

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The cast of Just Be You

Scheduling an outdoor theatre event in early May is a high-risk strategy, but it paid off and the Birmingham mac’s outdoor theatre was warm and sunny for the first performance of Just Be You.

The show is a co-production between Worcester-based Mobilise Arts and the mac’s own Generation Q Collective, an LGBTQIA+ emerging artist company. Written and directed by Hannah Phillips, with music by Nik Haley and Rachel Jones, Just Be You is an eco-friendly play with music for young children. A cast of six play the Earth Mother, Gaia, her fairies, Joy, Billy, Pick and Mix, and a human child called River.

Gaia (Rachel Jones) arrives at the start of the show in response to human cries for help as the planet is dying. She assures us that we are all connected and that our connection with nature gives us the power to save the planet, and ourselves.

River (Ebony Clarke) and the fairies arrive and whizz around the theatre on scooters and roller skates singing, “Welcome To Fairyland”. Children can see the fairies, but grown-ups need, “Faith, trust, and a little bit of fairy dust” for us to see them too. River is sent on a quest to find Gaia, and the audience is invited to come along too. The show is structured around a series of games and activities for its young audience to participate in. Earlier, we played Musical Statues, and at this point River leads the audience in a conga line round the theatre to find Gaia.

River arrives at the Enchanted Forest where we find Gaia, who sings a song with a tough message for River, “The human race has forgotten what’s important”, and “If Gaia dies, who will take the blame?”

Gaia awakens River’s connection with Nature, and ours, by listening to our own heartbeat. She reassures us that we are enough as we are, we just have to be the best version of ourselves we can. River gets some fabulous iridescent wings, and the show ends with a dance to which we are all invited. I’m not sure children under five learn the hokey-cokey any more, but we were on safer ground with "Baby Shark".

This is a sweet, warm-hearted show with a positive message for its young audience. Be the change you want to see, embrace your own creativity and live with a sense of connection with, and responsibility for, other people and the natural world. The cast are friendly and engaging, the costumes are simple and effective and the musical numbers work well.

More importantly, Hannah Phillips understands how theatre for very young children works: keep it visual, make sure it moves on every few minutes and give the audience things to do. It struggled to fill its advertised one hour running time, though, so a bit of comedy wouldn’t go amiss. A few more obstacles on the way to finding Gaia, and perhaps enlisting some allies on the way, might also have helped to make more of the quest.

There is a bit of an anti-education theme along the lines of creativity is what connects us to our true ourselves, to each other and to the natural world. Schools drive out creativity and turn creative children into unresponsive adults. It’s a fair point, and one which a lot of grown-ups would agree with, but with schools facing a 20% truancy rate, a more ‘pro, but better, education’ message might win over a few more of the teachers in the audience.

Reviewer: Andrew Cowie

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