The Flanagan Collective @ Gluttony – Carry On Theatre
5:30pm, Sun 11 Mar 2012
Pitched as a family-friendly show that relies on the imagination of the audience, it’s absolutely heartbreaking to see there’s only three families waiting outside the Carry On at the prescribed start time. The Flanagan Collective’s Veronica Hare greets us at the door with a generous and gentle smile, and encourages us to sit up the front in the beanbags; in the end there’s seven kids and adults apiece, and the children happily collapse into the beanbags. I grab a ‘bag far on the left – I’m very conscious that I’m the lone adult who is not there on account of a child, and I’m desperate to not appear to be Uncle Pervy. Sadly, the other adults stay in the safety of the plastic chairs, creating a very split audience.
Veronica comes and sits with us, and a semi-circle develops around her. She’s got a lovely, approachable quality as she asks “Who has been on an adventure?”… silence. She presses a bit; one girl admits to discovering a pile of Lego. More silence. I try to help out, and say that I’d been to England on an adventure for a month; another girl, maybe a quarter my age, leaps in and immediately one-ups me by saying she spent six weeks adventuring around Europe.
We’re asked to write down an adventure that we’d like to have on a piece of paper; I say “I’d like to go skiing on a glacier,” and draw a crappy stick-figure skier to elaborate. But I’m quite proud of the diagram and, as we drop our papers ceremonially into a suitcase for safekeeping, immediately regret not taking a photo of it. We’re also given paper stars, on which we sketch our fond memories of adventure: mine was a completely unrecognisable ascent to Arthur’s Seat.
Veronica then settles back and starts telling a story: there’s a Special Town in a forrest where make-believe things live. A Man and a Woman… well, that’s not important, really. The Man disappears one day, without explanation; the Woman, dismayed at her loneliness, writes all her sadness onto pieces of paper.
And I begin to get a little… uncomfortable. Isn’t this is a bit dark for youngsters?
But Veronica wraps that tale up and moves onto another – that of the eponymous William. William loves books, and accidentally discovers a mystical bookstore whose owner (somehow) contacts him later at home. William wishes himself back to the bookstore, and finds the book that has been haunting him since his first visit to the bookstore… the book written by the Woman. But, strangely, William doesn’t read it; he puts it away, and time passes; William grows up.
And it all gets a bit… fantastic from here.
Older, William finds and attempts to read the book – it disintegrates. On a whim, he returns to the bookstore, and meets Polly… who was sleeping in the biggest book in the store. William and Polly travel to the Special Town (from the first story) to save the world; they fail, but then create a new world… one in which stories thrive, because everyone loves them.
It’s a lovely ending to a lovely story – whilst the fantasy content occasionally distanced me from the production, Veronica’s gorgeous storytelling kept everyone engaged; not only does she present the tale in a very inclusive manner, but she also conjures ideas from the audience: what did the bookstore owner look like? How did William get to the village? (The adults helped out with that one; apparently, the journey involved going to egypt, underground to a crypt, thence on a boat, through a magic portal back to the bookshop, via a cab to South Africa.)
William, like The Flanagan Collective’s other show The Fastest Train To Anywhere, is chock full of whimsy, and you get the feeling that there’s more than a little leeway with the tale that’s told. And much of the joy is in the telling – Veronica is ace, and her constant callbacks to the various forms of wish-making (closing eyes, or dancing, or simply believing – then casting the wish with “fairy dust”, or ripped up paper that must be a nightmare to clean up at the end of a show) are a delight… but, in retrospect, I wonder whether I could have made it easier for her by sitting in a more central position.
Those of us children in the beanbags warmly applauded Veronica at the end of the story, then left holding our fond-memory stars… which, looking back on it, is a lovely touch.