Oily Cart’s Watery Wonderland Awakens the Senses


Oily Cart – the internationally acclaimed children’s and young people’s theatre company – have a new show Splish Splash, which is staged entirely in and under water. DAO interviewed director Tim Webb about the production, which is set to coincide with a month long celebration of 70 years of the NHS.

People in a pool for Oily Cart's Splish Splash

Oily Cart’s Splish Splash

This watery wonderland will tour hydrotherapy pools in NHS hospitals, hospices and special schools across Wales in July, playing to an audience of just 2 young people and their carers in each performance, and featuring a buoyant cast of 4 actors and a musician playing live on floating instruments. So how did Oily Cart come to devise an immersive production in this setting?

“My wife, Claire de Loon and I had taken our young son to Acton Baths for a bit of a swim. At the other end of the pool an aqua-aerobics class was taking place. Claire and I looked at one another with the realisation that this sort of working, with music, in a pool, might just work for another audience.”

“For the most part the pools, whether in schools or hospitals, are used in a straight-forward, therapeutic way, with physiotherapists relying on the support of the water to exercise limbs in different ways. But at Oily Cart we realised that the pools and their surroundings can be transformed into magical spaces where every sense is delighted, and in which we can create close-up performances that will engage young people, transcending the barriers that stand between them and others and the world around.”

Performer in a pool for Splish Splash

Oily Cart’s Splish Splash

In true Oily Cart tradition, where all kinds of shows are created for all kinds of kids, Splish Splash comes in three versions: one for those with profound and multiple learning disabilities, another for those on the autism spectrum, and a third for deafblind children.

Each show is tailored specifically to the needs of its audience who – as active participants – fully determine the course of their watery and holistic journey, where every sense is ignited and delighted.

“In the past couple of years, as a result of our collaborations with UK Sense and the Russian organisation Soedinenie, we have become much more aware of the specific requirements of the deafblind community.”

“We came to realise that deafblind children might benefit from a form of theatre that, as with our work affected by other complex impairments, was highly interactive, close-up (often one-to-one) but that focussed on the senses of smell, touch, taste, the kinaesthetic sense and the sense of temperature rather than those senses that usually predominate in theatre – sight and sound.”

Tim Webb sitting down

Tim Webb (pictured) will step down after 36 years

Splish Splash also marks company co-founders Tim Webb and Max Reinhardt’s final creation. They stand down later this year after 36 years at the helm and 87 productions together – to make way for new creative leadership. Head of Design, Claire de Loon, the third and final cog in the original Oily Cart wheel, stepped down in 2016.

“I believe that the theatre the company is making for the very young and for audiences with the complex disabilities can and must continue. I am very proud that the Oily Cart model of working has been taken up by other companies both in the UK and other countries including Japan, Russia and the USA.”

“I hope that this network of people working close-up and in a multi-sensory way will continue to grow. By the end of this year all three founders of the Oily Cart will have moved on, but I am confident that by then our successors will not only keep creating amazing theatre but will find new and wonderful ways to contact and engage neglected audiences.”

Tim has written and directed Splish Splash, with music direction by Max who has also composed the music, arranged by virtuoso percussionist George Panda. George will perform live at each show from the water with a specially constructed marimba (aka marineba!), on calabash bass drums and on Tibetan singing bowls – all of which will float. These specially commissioned instruments have been designed and made by Jamie Linwood. The show is designed by Oily Cart stalwart Jens Cole.

Special schools, hospices, hospitals and SEND groups can get more information and enquire about booking Splish Splash by contacting Oily Cart’s Touring Producer, Alison Garratt: alison@oilycart.org.uk

Please note, due to the unique nature of these performances, Splish Splash is not open to booking by the public. Each show is performed to an audience of two young people at a time, accompanied by their carers, and is tailored to the specific needs of each audience member.

During Deafblind Awareness Week from Sun 24th Jun – Sat 30th June, Oily Cart’s current UK tour of Kubla Khan – their first show devised for deaf blind audiences – will play at the Rose Theatre, Kingston on 26th-27th June.

Please click on this link for full details of National Theatre Wales NHS70 program