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Hush-A-Bye (Susan Elkin reviews)

Written & produced by Tim Webb. Created by Oily Cart and based on character designs by children’s author and illustrator, Nikki Pontin.
society/company: Oily Cart (Professional productions) (directory)
performance date: 14 Dec 2017
venue: artsdepot, North Finchley, London

Oily cart performers don’t just act, sing and dance (although they do all of that – expertly). They play with children in some of the most thoughtful, immersive theatre for the very young you’ll ever see.

The latest show takes us into the trees. The lobby which leads into the studio theatre performance space at Arts Depot is full of tiny tree houses at infant height – look inside to see eggs. How many birds can you hear singing?

The audience is then led by talented, skilled cast members – resplendent in multi layered silky costumes to represent feathers and with arms flapping – into the performance space. Children sit at three arc-shaped benches where they embark on building a nest.

Everything is multisensory, as in all Oily Cart shows. They use fluffy feathers, crinkly bits of shiny paper and aromatic herbs in the nests. And the cast are working with them continuously as well as performing simple songs within the space encircled by the children’s benches. When there’s a storm and it rains we are lightly sprayed in perfumed water and given leaf umbrellas. Then the eggs hatch and there are baby birds to look after. The scene in which worms have to be found to feed the chicks is very funny. Finally– the show is called “Hushabye” after all – a baby appears. By implication she’s the one who is asleep “in the tree top” and there’s an element of “when the wind blows the cradle will rock.”

Griff Fender and Katherine Gray are Oily Cart regulars and their performances are, as ever, warm and inclusive. The music is beautifully played on kora by Kadialy Kouyate who also co-wrote some of it with music director Max Reinhardt. Kouyate also sings some of it in his own West African language, Manding.

Tim Webb who founded Oily Cart wrote this exquisite show, which is directed by Anna Newell, is really on top of what works. His decades of experience shine through. And the attention to detail in the creation of the hands on set and props (head of scenic construction: Hannah Sharp) is second to none.

This fine show, which touring through spring 2018 comes in three versions: for babies and toddlers (6 months to 2 years), for young children (3-5 years) and a relaxed version for young people aged 3-8.

This review was first published by Sardines:

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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