Clockheart Boy -- Royal Exchange, Manchester
8/4/09 Julia Taylor

Clockheart Boy, a fairy tale by Sam Gayton, is performed by an energetic cast from Dumbshow. Probably because of their youth, they tend to shout different things all at once which can be slightly distracting.

The piece itself is reminscent of the tales of the Brothers Grimm. Yet, although it has dark moments, there is nothing grim about it, as the characters are naïve, charming and comical.

Jack Lowe’s Clockheart Boy, washed up on a beach with a hole where his heart should be, is the most innocent of all.

He wakes up in a castle occupied by a Professor (Jack Cole) who, having lost his beloved daughter, Sophie, 28 years, nine months, three weeks and four days before, consoles himself by conducting wild experiments and making home-made helpers just like the doctor in ‘Coppelia’.

One doll, expertly danced by Rachel King, performs jerkily like Coppelia herself. She is a Sophie look-alike.

Meanwhile, someone (I won’t say who) is locked in a wardrobe in the basement of the castle – and determined to escape!

The mad Professor, in slapstick fashion, gives the boy a clock for a heart, which gives the piece shades of The Wizard Of Oz. The lad now has a new lease of life and prompts him to constantly ask questions. The most profound is, “Can I love?”And he believes Peepers (Lotte Allan), the eyes for the eccentric group, when he tells him a fairy tale about the stars, beautifully illustrated above the roof of the castle.

His curiosity turns to the missing girl and, by the use of flashbacks, we piece together what happened, helped by Hester Bond as Sophie and Sam Brassington as Brolly who lost her. Clockheart’s exuberance increases as he discovers friendship, and even love.

Clockheart Boy is more than a play, as music is cunningly added by the inclusion of a clockwork pianist.This part gives composer Rollo Clarke a chance to play and display his liltingly lovely music.

It’s a shame then that the set is so basic. Although I appreciate the lack of space in the studio theatre, it consists of just a table and wardrobe which seems very sparce for a magical castle, even with a child’s vivid imagination.

Thankfully, Clockheart never simply plays to the kids, as it makes valid points about love, death, jealousy and loss, which adults will relate to. But what did the children think? I asked Olivia Reid, aged 10, from Chester for her views.

Olivia, who plays the piano herself, enjoyed the music and dancing.“I liked all of it”, she said.

Her sister, Isabel, was only five but she enjoyed it, too. “I liked both the Sophies,” she said, giving away the happy ending. Or was it?