'Me & the Sea' - Touched Theatre
Little Angel Theatre, London
To be honest, I wasn't surprised Darren East was the front man for last Sunday's performance of Me & the Sea. His personality is the perfect fit for such a well-rounded show. I first met Darren eight years ago while mutually flyering on a festival street, and ever since I have respected his passion for storytelling, collaboration, and his use of puppetry in education and therapy. This particular show with the company Touched Theatre is a prime example of these attributes.
The comment I heard most afterwards was, "Amazing, did you see how attentive the children were?" For an hour long production at 2pm on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, this is the ultimate achievement. That pre-show feeling of being in a chattering playground ended abruptly at the first note of Hannah Miller's cello. We were all hooked until the very end when Darren reminded us of the overall driving theme: "It was really just about how things work, how they change": (children, adults, insects, life….) And to teach about change, one must demonstrate change, and Touched Theatre have done this successfully with the metaphoric parallels between metamorphosing caterpillars and evolving families.
Darren and writer/dramaturg partner Beccy Smith have hand-crafted this endearing story about a boy's investigation into his father's mysterious disappearance out at sea. Throughout, Darren's stage ability carries this story with multiple character/costume changes; simple, surprise magic tricks; experienced puppetry work with the two table-top figures; and engaging storytelling. These constant transformations kept the audience connected throughout a production that felt remarkably like a classroom at times, albeit one in the back of a zany puppet zoo perhaps. Darren often approached the children directly with either a friendly butterfly, or to enter into the aisles as The Mom to pass out clothing, or by even commencing a Q & A session. This breaking of the stage boundary helped to bring the children directly into the world of the piece as opposed to just staring at it á la television. I even had my own moment of nostalgia when we were all squirted with water from a ketchup jar, taking me immediately back 20 years ago to Muppets 3D at Disney in a similar scene with Fozzie's flower lapel.
The combination of story, stage work, and moral is rounded out remarkably with the beautiful cello accompaniment. Created especially for this piece, the score does not merely accompany the visuals, but helps drive and push the performance to what it is. Hannah often created the mood sonically before we even saw it, and continuously underlined the movement with her inventive sound effects. Combined with well-constructed puppets, the bedroom-like set, and strong lighting design, Me & the Sea should find its wings after its own long duration of development and change.