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4/5

Clockheart Boy -- Cochrane, London
17/12/08 Andy Marchant

Following a successful run in Edinburgh (an impressive achievement in itself) with several positive reviews, the Dumbshow production “Clockheart Boy” continues for a further week at the Cochrane Theatre, London.

It’s a ragdoll fairytale about a boy washed up on a beach missing a heart, and the Professor who saves him, reintroducing him to the world with some specifically designed servants. But the castle he is brought to hides secrets, among them the melancholy history of the Professor himself.

The moment you walk into the theatre, two things become apparent: 1) This is a show designed for kids more than grown ups (even childish ones); 2) Every single performer is having fun.
The story is dominated by the Professor (Jack Cole), a boyish spirit rooted in the tragic loss of his daughter. Cole’s Professor, despite looking 40 years younger than he apparently should be, plays with an addictive enthusiasm setting the tone and really bringing the audience into the world.

The Professor’s servants are a troupe of child-like robots, each skilled, sometimes integrally to the plot (“Peepers” sees everything, even the truth… oooh!), some just for laughs (“Gobble” cooks). It’s an entertaining gang, full physical performance and slapstick, which will have children arguing over who is best. My personal favourite was Maestro (Rollo Clarke) the unsung hero providing incidental music throughout the show, sat at a piano with a giant clockwork key in his back.

The title character, the Clockheart Boy himself (Jack Lowe) is played with a sweet cluelessness, but the similar nature of the other characters means there isn’t much to distinguish him, apart from being “new”.

Rounding off the cast is the brilliantly twisted Ballerina (Rachel King), a twirling, mechanical menace with a rictus grin that has the bizarre effect of freaking you out and making you smile.

The performances were impressively professional from the young cast. Costumes and sets looked as if they had spilled out of a toybox. There was a lovely balance between a wild and colourful world and a dark story.

Clocking in at 75 to 90 minutes means it’s short, but it really did need an interval, if only for the kids. There were also a few moments when light was flared up right in the eyes of the audience, so watch out for that.

Scriptwise, sometimes there was a tendency to “Disney” the plot. Emphasis on love, family, togetherness is all well and good in small doses, but adults know all that, and children want to go onto a food fight and the scary woman locked in the basement.

You don’t get too many new fairy tales any more, but writer Sam Gayton has come up with a very fun story, part original, part homage. Almost “Pinocchio in Oz with the Seven Dwarves”. Direction by Michael Bryher nicely played to the child demographic, providing enough in the way of spectacle and asides to entertain kidults. Well worth treating little’uns to see it while you can.