Little Bulb Theatre
Battersea Arts Centre
Even such a gradiose term as "epic folk opera" - Little Bulb Theatre's own description of Sporadical - is too small an umbrella to cover everything the company pile into this show. It's too restrictive a pigeonhole even to contain the show's full musical gamut, which includes sea shanties, Gothic piano-led laments and beat poetry; yet the musical, too, nestles within a larger frame.
The big picture is the 2010 Welles-Ferry family reunion. The audience assumes the role of the extended family, while Little Bulb are the family's youngest generation. This provides the pretext for some exuberant audience interaction - the gently immersive kind, not the threatening kind - and for the meta-musical: the little 'uns are performing the family's origin story as passed down by recently-deceased patriarch Reginald Welles-Ferry.
Well, if only all childrens' attempts at theatre were this good. Of course, Little Bulb are significantly older than they're purporting to be, but apparently age is no barrier to childish charm. Goodies are good (and mostly named Welles or Ferry), baddies are bad (and have the moustaches to prove it) and ghosts and mermaids are as much an accepted part of life as death by shipwreck or the tragic separation of mother and child.
As with the company's critically-acclaimed Crocosmia, that spectre of parental absence - usually through tragic accidental death - hovers constantly alongside their infectious juvenile optimism, complementing rather than tempering or undermining it. The way the young Welles-Ferry characters deal with death - by giving the dead the happy ending in the retelling that they were denied in real life - is as constructive in its way as any grown-up pyschology or rationalisation.
But forget all that stuff! There's cardboard lightning! Naked puppets! Peril! A wedding dress that doubles as a parachute! Destined love! There's so much to enjoy that it's a wrench, once it's all over, to exit the bar and relinquish your briefly assumed Welles-Ferry name. Here's to Family Reunion 2011.
Until 20 March
Reviewer: Matt Boothman