Fringe Report

Clockheart Boy -- C Chambers Street, Edinburgh
16/8/08 David Hepburn

Verdict: Deliciously dark Gothic pantomime fairytale

Clockheart Boy is a deliciously dark fairytale which combines music, drama and dance to terrific effect.

It tells the story of the Professor (Jack Cole), a slightly unhinged scientist who lives in a castle on the coast of a unspecified magical land. The Professor specialises in creating a host of talented robots, each of whom have a particular power – from Peepers (Lotte Allan), who has super-eyesight, to Wheels (Natasha Hodgson), who is super-fast. Even the music throughout the play is performed by one of the robots – Maestro (Rollo Clarke, who also composed the score).

The Scientist loses his daughter, Sophie (Hester Bond), who disappears during a walk on the beach with another robot, Brolly (Sam Brassington). Brolly was designed to look after Sophie, as well as keep her dry with his handy umbrella attachment, and the Professor never forgives him for his supposed failure.

The Professor spends years looking for Sophie, with the help of his band of robots, but he gives up hope after creating a robot version of his daughter, the Ballerina (Rachel King), to assuage his grief. This goes tragically wrong; the fake daughter is locked in a cupboard by the rest of the robots, and in time is forgotten.

A long time later, the Professor is moved to begin searching once more for Sophie with the use of his newly-invented telescope (ingeniously created by the cast) but, instead, finds a boy without a heart lying on the beach. He repairs the boy by fitting him with a clockwork heart and Clockheart Boy (Jack Lowe) becomes part of the strange family. When Clockheart Boy accidentally releases the Ballerina, the tale takes a darker twist and everything the Professor holds dear is put in jeopardy.

The entire drama is told is a wonderfully creative way. There are stunning costumes and make-up. A whole variety of techniques are used to tell the heart-breaking fable and all, from shadow-puppetry and flashback, to dance, song and even a food-fight, are perfectly executed.

The ensemble cast are uniformly excellent but special mention must be made of Jack Lowe who plays Clockheart Boy with a naivity and sweetness that never threatens to spill over into stupidity. Sam Brassington puts in a lovely performance as the put-upon Brolly. Natasha Hodgson’s characterisation of Wheels provides momentum and light whenever things threaten to get too gloomy.

Jack Cole is fine as the Professor, although his youth makes it difficult for him to make the supposedly wizened inventor believable. Lotte Allan makes Peepers the most sympathetic character on show and the most human of robots – the exact opposite of Rachel King’s manically terrifying Ballerina.

Sam Gaytons writing successfully turns what could be an impossibly complex and confusing story into an easily understandable and suprisingly straightforward narrative. The many scenes never outstay their welcome and the action rushes by. Direction by Hester Bond and Nicola Cutcher is lively and makes a bewildering array of techniques and forms seem the most natural combination in the world. The entire performance is thoroughly satisfying, a gothic pantomime.