Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea
Images of childhood suffering have become so familiar to us via our TV screens that many of us have become totally immune to the human tragedy behind the pictures. It takes something very special to bring home the devastating effects of suffering, of illness, of bereavement, of mourning and of the unbearable sense of loss suffered by those who are left behind - and even more so to put it all into perspective, to make sense of it all and to leave audiences with a positive, life-affirming message which they can take away with them and think about for a long time afterwards.
Quicksilver Theatre have long been established as a superior company whose productions are almost invariably magical, thought-provoking and courageous, tackling subjects which need to be handled with real sensitivity and the utmost care. This is a wonderfully gentle and intelligently produced piece of theatre which explores the friendship between two children: Tony, who is having to cope with the turmoil of a new stepfather and the impending arrival of his mum's new baby, and Josie, who is suffering from cancer. Except that she is not "suffering" in the accepted sense of the word. Josie - a beautifully drawn character, portrayed with breathtaking skill and emotional depth by Chèryl Blaze - proves to be an inspirational friend whose love of life and common sense changes Tony's life for the better and enables him to see a way ahead at a time when his life and circumstances are throwing his emotions into turmoil.
There is a clever stylistic twist which only becomes apparent some way into the story, when we discover that Josie's influence upon Tony continues long after he has lost her - thus proving the endurance and lasting value of friendship, companionship and love. Anyone - child or adult alike - who has found their life changed for the better by a valued friend will find much here with which they can identify. Be warned, however - no matter how blasé or cynical one might imagine oneself to be, this production packs one heck of an emotional wallop. I positively guarantee that at some stage during the story, you will find yourself with a tear rolling down your cheek. The word for which I am searching here is "cathartic".
This is not to say that humour is never far from the surface - witness the fabulous sequence featuring a sumo-wrestling baby and the clever use of masks to delineate various characters, as well as Dan Pott's terrifically cheeky and fast-talking portrayal of Tony, a character with whom the children in the audience will have absolutely no problem identifying.
The most striking sequence of all comes towards the end, when the stage is transformed into a giant computer game which mirrors Josie's struggle for life. Ultra-violet effects, brilliantly conceived lighting and Andrew Dodge's soaring, heartbreaking music combine with slow-motion choreography to create a moment which will remain in the memory of those fortunate enough to witness it for many years to come.
The ultimate message is one of hope, faith in the future and the enduring power of love.
According to Josie, facing your biggest fears is very much like the most complicated of computer games: "When you start out," she says, "it seems impossible. Little victories. Take it in stages. One step at a time."
By the end of the story, when we last encounter Tony sitting beneath a full moon, he has clearly been left a lasting legacy from Josie which will remain with him forever.
"However long we get a chance to live it," he tells the audience, "life is wonderful." As fine a message to take home with you as you could ever wish to hear.
Reviewer: Graham Williams