Tim Webb
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Unicorn Theatre


This show for 3-11 year-olds is built around different kinds of tube and what you can do with them.

It comes in two versions. They are not very different but they are carefully tailored for particular audiences. One is for children with profound and multiple learning disabilities, the other for those on the autism spectrum.

I saw it in the second version and with an audience that lacked conventional language skills. It has an audience of only six, each with their adult companion or carer who sit or lie in hanging seats arranged in a circle together with an impressive tube organ and a circular disc, like a tube’s end on which images are projected. I attended as an observer, outside the circle, rather than as a participant.

This is not a “story” show but rather a piece of sensory theatre that begins with the audience meeting the cast and company outside the performance space so that they can get to know each other. At the Unicorn they meet at the top of the building and, when familiar with each other, progress to the Clore Theatre on the ground floor door the stairs in a miniature procession. Inside the theatre, round, red rings like paving stones lead to the performance area where they can settle into their hanging chairs. By the side of each chair is a stool for their companion.

What follows is a seemingly improvised but carefully constructed sequence of experiences led by performers Griff Fender, Ellie Griffiths and George Panda who are dressed in clownish costumes of stripes and blobs with tube shapes projecting from their headgear. Children on the autism spectrum may behave unpredictably, performers must be entirely flexible, able to adapt to their behaviour whether they get up and wander around or close in on themselves so that they can deliver—a better word is share—the experiences out of which Tube is constructed.

This begin with investigating what you can do in the hanging seat. You can rock, you can swing, you can twirl, you can bounce, all to the music George Panda plays on the pipe organ designed and built by Jamie Linwood. It is made of green plastic pipes of different diameters and lengths curving downwards. The upper openings are struck with struck with a paddle, rather like playing a marimba. It makes a lmost melodious sound to which is added the singing of the performers and the sounds they make on other forms of tubing.

The next experience is of blowing through a drinking straw. Every episode and the props used for it is introduced first by the performers so that there are no sudden shocks or surprises. First there is the experience of having the straw blown at you, on a hand perhaps to start with, then you can have a straw yourself and blow if you are bold enough to try it. If the child is hesitant, the carer can and perhaps give their charge confidence to have a go. This is something for everyone to be involved in.

From straws things move on to bigger tubes, like bicycle pumps, that can gently puff smells for savouring: lavender and zesty mandarin seem to be the ones on offer. How about making your own tune on a tube? There is a big one that’s quite booming. There are tubes to look through, transparent tubes to shake like giant maraccas that shine with bright light or darken as you turn them and the contents cover the lamp—too big for little hands to shake but they can still hold them.

One sequence introduces big red towels with a sort of dance, waved they make a breeze before being draped over the children, then there are clear plastic umbrellas which, if you can’t hold them, can be hung over your head. What is coming—a tube that sprays water over you—or at least on the umbrella, and then a cloth to wipe it dry—and you if necessary.

There is a sequence where the children can see themselves video-projected on the screen, which previously showed images that match each sequence, and then it is time to say goodbye to this tube world with a goodbye song for every individual.

It sounds extremely simple and, in a way it is, but this sharing of sensations is beautifully structured to become an entertainment by a set of skilled creators and performers. Just watching, even without direct participation, is a pleasure.

A third version of Tube, not being presented in the Unicorn season but will be touring, is intended for mainstream babies and toddlers and will play to audiences of about 30 including carers.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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