Clockheart Boy -- Cochrane, London
17/12/08 Kerry Eustice

Inhabiting a curious world where Tim Burton would quite happily reside, Clockheart Boy is a twisted fairytale presented by Dumbshow, the latest young company to watch.

It’s been 28 years, three months and five days since the Professor’s daughter Sophie went missing. Not that he’s counting. Despite best efforts from his home-made helpers – kitted out a bit like nu-rave Raggy Dolls – Sophie was never found following a seaside game of hide and seek and her father and his castle on the coast were never the same again.

He seeks solace in science, throwing himself into equations and experiments, but this work develops little but a secret so terrible it has to stay locked away in a wardrobe in the castle’s basement. Thankfully some hope washes up on the beach along with a boy who has no heart. A hilarious surgery sequence ensues – which pulls out many a slapstick stop – and sees the brilliant Professor (a canny blend of grieving father and mad scientist from Jack Cole) give the boy a clockwork heart.

As the new clock on the block, Clockheart Boy asks all manner of questions. Everything from trivial wonderings to the eternal burning ones such as ‘can I love?’ and brings life back into the castle and the Professor. He also gives the clan a chance to tell the Professor’s story in flash-back form.

Jack Lowe plays the eponymous Clockheart Boy with the innocence and vulnerability of Johnny Depp’s Edward Scissorhands and the hair of an indie-band frontman. But this production has almost too many loveable characters to mention. There’s the wind-up pianist providing a lovely score, the all-seeing Peepers, Gobble, a cook crazier and more temperamental than Gordon Ramsay, the disillusioned speedster, Wheels and Bulb the achluophobic – and watching this crew keeps the show more than ticking over with laughs.

Rachel King is also brilliant as the robotic Ballerina, her jerky movements and theatre-filling voice forging a formidable baddie.

With all the colour and charm of an old-fashioned sweet shop, this production looks just lovely with quirky costumes, fine sets and lots of attention to detail. The company pulls off some neat visual tricks too. A bedtime story is beautifully told using shadows and a roof-top scene where stars are recreated in a charming – albeit home-made – way, all look good enough to eat. Like all the proper fairy tales (the brothers were Grimm by name and nature, after all) Clockheart Boy goes from a potential happily ever after to a dark and tragic morality tale before long.

The action unfolds naturally and feels perfectly paced without skimping on detail, wit or imagination. It has a poetic feel at times – and is especially touching when Peepers tells the inquisitive Clockheart Boy the stars are a blanket of diamonds, discarded by couples who have fallen out of love and broken their engagements – exploring life’s bigger questions alongside lots of charming humour.

It may be dripping with borrowed Burton-esque eccentricity but it is so thoughtful and melancholy, it doesn’t descend into copyist throw-away whimsy. Clearly crafted with as much love as it promotes so fervently, Clockheart Boy has oodles of colour, slapstick and sweetness to keep children happy but this is more a fairytale designed to capture adult hearts, clock or otherwise.