Complicité at the Mercury Theatre Colchester
“This is a big story – it needs to be savoured!”
Complicité's first show aimed at a younger audience, now revived and touring, makes a great half-term treat for the Mercury Theatre, directed by Clive Mendus and James Yeatman after the original by Annabel Arden.
It's the story of Charlie Ashanti, who knows the language of cats great and small. His parents are scientists, abducted by the megalithic Corporacy, a big pharma multinational who are keen to prevent the development of a cure for asthma.
Charlie's hectic quest to free them takes him from London to France to Morocco; on the way he joins a floating circus, whose pride of lions he vows to release back into their natural habitat.
Introductions over, Complicité dig deep into the theatrical toolbox in a dazzling display of the storyteller's art.
Shadowplay, sinister round video screens, a miniature hot air balloon, live percussion from composer Stephen Hiscock. But most of the effects are ingeniously simple: metal stepladders for the Corporacy HQ, a brilliant door-slam, wet inner tubing in a bucket for the eel-monger, splashing squealing youngsters in the front stalls.
He's just one of a gallery of boldly-drawn characters: the smooth-talking CEO, the multi-lingual chameleon, the bearded lady, the young villain Rafi and his invisible pit-bull, Maccomo the lion tamer, King Boris of Bulgaria, and audience favourite Sergei, the GM moggie from Wigan, played by Eric Mallett.
Martins Imhangbe makes an engaging Charlie, telling his life story and, magically, morphing into his friends the lions with a deft flick of his lithe frame.
All played out on the circular stage, redolent of the big top, with the faded floor scarred by hooves, feet and paws.
Like Zizou Corder's books, the piece is openly didactic, the chases, the juggling and the physical fireworks alternating with discussions about animal rights and morality. Culminating in a boxing bout – competitive point-scoring with Charlie in the stage left corner, and Rafi [Angel Lopez-Silva] representing the Corporacy stage right. But the youngsters in the audience seem rapt throughout, and are rewarded in the end by being actively involved in the story - roaring their heads off to defeat the big bad boss [Clive Mendus].
“There are many ways to tell a story,” the cast admit as the play closes. And, commendably, we are encouraged to read the books for ourselves.
But all those who come aboard the show-boat Circe will have had a uniquely theatrical experience, impossible to replicate in any other medium, save perhaps in the unfettered imagination of a child lost in a storybook ...
production photograph by Mark Douet