Invisible Flash are an innovative new theatre company whose aim is to ‘activate audience’s imaginations, through a bold exploration of the senses enhanced for a non-sighted audience’. Liz Porter caught their first production, Maddy and the Invisible Band of Groovers at the Half Moon Theatre, London 19 November 2016.
It’s always exciting to see new theatre companies emerge. Produced by Jo Rawlinson, this show is a gentle and enchanting piece of work incorporating storytelling, puppetry and song. Written and directed by Invisible Flash Director, Alex Bulmer, the show contained strong performances from all four actors, Simon Startin, Karina Jones, Molly Lambert and Robin Yorke.
The ideas began several years ago when Alex was involved in a project at the Polka Theatre in Wimbledon. She wanted to explore ways to build soundscapes into her writing and to find ways for non-sighted audiences to have a more active experience. She took her initial script to Joseph Clarke School and worked with blind and partially sighted pupils to devise this new show. Their ideas fed into the re-writing. They particularly liked the idea of a puppet girl who has ‘portable ears’ because finding ways to use your ears is so important if you’re blind or partially sighted.
The plot follows Maddy, an 8 year old girl who lacks confidence and is experiencing bullying from school mates because she wears glasses, particularly when she’s at drama club, which she loves. One day she has a really horrible time and comes home to find no Mum at home, instead her Grandad who’s moving in. She doesn’t want to help with the unpacking but he encourages her and listens to her problems. This is where we begin to shift from ‘real story’ into imagination.
The removal boxes become a place to dive into as Grandad begins to create a story from the objects inside. The story they make up together includes all the usual ingredients of a ‘traditional fairy tale’ disguised in everyday characters with a protagonist, wicked siblings, a challenge and obstacles to overcome, a helper and a solution.
This poignant yet funny Cinderella-like tale has plenty of slapstick, which the young members of the audience enjoyed. It’s fast paced with good energy.
Initially, it took a little while to understand the full concept, as there was so much happening in quick succession; many different strands of story and theatrical styles to latch onto. It features a puppet girl (performed by the other two actors), with portable ears, objects and live characterisation as the story unfolds.
The connection between Maddy’s real story and imagined tale got a bit lost, although there is a kind of parallel thread in that the puppet girl loves playing the piano, is bullied by her siblings who do their best to prevent her from having music lessons. She is encouraged by a helper (a local neighbour), persists and wins the day, thus learning to believe in herself.
Unfortunately, I had missed the pre-show touch tour/experience clearly meant as an integral element to aide inclusivity. This is where the cast interact with the audience, show them the objects and describe the set up – designed to help people connect and play with their ‘inner groover’. You needed to do this to feel totally included and perhaps the company could explain this more in their pre-show publicity.
Invisible Flash have commissioned Fahmida Bakht and Janelle Joseph to design an adaptable set that includes both playing and audience areas using bright colours, textures and multi-sensory interventions. The sound of bubbling water and bird song is heard as we enter immediately introducing the audience to a playful environment. However without experiencing pre-show banter, the connection between the set and the story loses clarity.
A strength to this production, is their work in educational settings, with 7-11 year olds. The show lends plenty of scope for interesting discussion and opportunities for pupils to try out new drama skills as well as considering what it might mean to wear glasses or do things differently.
Alex Bulmer explained that in some of the schools they’ve visited children have also created their own objects and stories and these are sometimes woven into the script – children then gain more ownership and connection and excitement when Grandad uses one of their creations. They are more likely to spontaneously burst into sound adding sound bites to the performance especially when the rats or ‘baddies’ are on stage, because they have been given more permission to do this. We didn’t get this kind of reaction at the Half Moon but a theatre experience is different to a show visiting your own school.
Pre-show publicity has clearly done its job (I loved the audio flyer). This show has attracted great audiences in the well chosen venues it’s touring. With great feedback from schools. I’m certainly looking forward to the next chapter!
Invisible Flash present Maddy and the Invisible Band of Groovers at DaDaFest 2016 on 25th November. Please click on this link for more information.