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Ten in a Bed (Susan Elkin reviews)

Ten in a Bed

By Steve Tasane

Directed by Chris Elwell

A Half Moon Theatre production

Polka Theatre and touring nationwide

Star rating: 4

For a “simple” two hander show for 3-8 year olds this powerful, insightful, moving play is pretty complex. Developed as part of Half Moon’s 2021 “Narrative of Empathy and Resilience”, at one level we see two brothers Iggy (Hayden Mampasi) and Kaz (Hari Kang) playing and singing in the night because they can’t sleep. And it’s funny. Young audiences love to see adults pretending to be children and doing silly things. At another level this is a refugee story of two children who’ve arrived safely – the lucky ones or at least “luckier than before” – and are being held in a facility on Britian’s south coast. They are lonely, frightened and haunted by what they’ve been through but they are also mischievous, playful and imaginative – because they’re children.

The concept is clever. The cushions on the bed represent the other eight of the titular ten. Each has a name.  They are the boys’ friends. The traditional “There were ten in the bed” song is sung several times but the words are changed to “Roll over and there was room for everyone” which is a pretty pertinent political message – which palpably gave the large Year 2 group I saw it with something to think about.

The play’s message –  subtly presented and never over-egged – is underpinned by symbolism. One of the games the boys play, regularly harassed and threatened by an adult English voice telling them to be quiet, is to imagine they’re on a boat. The sea is rough and there are sharks circling. Should they lighten the load and throw one of the cushions overboard and if so which one? Iggy is constantly hungry and the jelly baby (ten of them in a bed of icing) cake he keeps remembering symbolises what he has left and lost. Eventually he and Kaz find a way of reconciling their old and new lives but the coloured jumpers strung like washing across the back screen quietly tell their own tragic story. Where are their wearers?

Both actors are good and they work pleasingly together under Chris Elwell’s very experienced direction. Sorcha Corcoran’s design, which includes a stage left quasi-building made of therapy boxes, is simple enough to go into all the different spaces this fine show’s big forthcoming tour will require. Mark Newnham gives us fairly gentle folksy music which might be from, say, Syria and which plays continuously shifting from major to minor according to the mood of the moment and accompanying the boys’ singing.

Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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