[2014012] WOODCOURT: Animorphed

[2014012] WOODCOURT: Animorphed

Woodcourt Art Theatre @ The Coffee Pot

6:00pm, Sat 15 Feb 2014

As with The Bunker Trilogy, I’m a little wary of committing to seeing the set of five Woodcourt productions; but it felt right that I have a little taster of their programme on the same day as the Bunker crew.

And the outcome, it must be said, was pretty much the same: I wound up changing the remaining Woodcourt shows from “maybe” to “definitely”.

In a (previously unbeknownst to me) tiny little room atop The Coffee Pot, twenty people squeeze into the seating area; cushions on stacked milk crates create a makeshift raked seating area, but some are left to sit on the floor. In front of a simple set – a table with a collection of books neatly arranged – Simon Binns (who I’d previously encountered during Applespiel’s challenging Executive Stress / Corporate Retreat) provides a tongue-in-cheek fire safety warning (the Exit is that way) before the lights drop.

It’s a quirky start – Binns appears from blackout, holding an odd pose – before dropping the pose and sauntering to the table, grabbing the leftmost book in the collection: “Animorphs: The Invasion,” he reads, before flipping a few pages into the book; “Chapter one.”

He starts reading. And keeps reading.

And I remember feeling a little bit disappointed, and a little bit scared. Was this entire performance going to be just a series of readings from a series of books that I’d previously never heard of? And that were, on the basis of what was being read out, really badly written?

But at the end of the chapter, Binns snaps the book shut and starts talking to us, describing how he had discovered the Animorphs series of books through the Scholastic book club (which I also used to abuse in order to get “educational” books). And I’m immediately drawn to his story: getting addicted to children’s novels (though mine were Famous Five and Hardy Boys and Choose Your Own Adventure). Drifting away from the initial rush. Returning to the series later and manically completing the collection after-the-fact.

It’s all so identifiable.

Binns flips between continued readings of The Invasion and his own thoughts and impressions, describing how he identified with the characters as a youngster, and was heartbroken at the discovery that some of the books were written by a ghost-writer. There’s also an audience interaction section – nominated in the most respectful way possible! – that has Binns directing questions from an online forum at a crowd-provided KA Applegate.

And, in between scenes, the lights black out: after some scuffling in the dark, we return to Binns’ exaggerated pose as he – step-by-step – performs his own animorphing throughout the show. The denouement extracted plenty of oohs and aahs from the audience, and was a super sweet touch.

Not only did Animorphed provide a convincing introduction into what the aesthetic of the Woodcourt series of shows would be like, but it was a sterling show in its own right. Full of heart, with solid storytelling and a hint of whimsy, it totally won over this middle-aged man with an OCD tick that still knows where his own book collections are stashed.

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