If you’re tired of fairytales, fables, and Dickens adaptations, Little Soldier Productions’ Journey to the Impossible is a fun and unusual December alternative. It’s 1982, and three young friends looking for adventure find themselves transported to another dimension, to the strange and dangerous city of Vernopolis. They quickly find themselves separated and in trouble, and must fight to find their way home again.
Written by Mercè Ribot and Patricia Rodríguez in collaboration with Matt Harvey, Journey to the Impossible leans heavily on nostalgia to get the audience on side, and it’s chock-full of references to ’80s music, film, and trends (probably more than this ’90s kid noticed if I’m honest about it). But what hits me as truly nostalgic about this show is how strongly it reminds me of those imaginary games you made up with your best friends on the playground, with the kind of storyline that’s impossible to explain to an outsider, but that your friends just implicitly get. Those games where you’re a hero version of yourself, but sometimes you get to play the baddy too.
The pace absolutely rockets along, and it feels like it should be easy to miss important stuff, but the core storyline – save your friends and get back home – is simple enough that all the twiddly bits around it are available to enjoy on whatever level engages you most. And that’ll be the ’80s nods for some; for others, it’ll be the obvious joy taken in plagiarising all the best bits (and all the worst bits) of Jules Verne.
The three performers – Dan Armstrong, Lucy Bishop, and Duncan Cameron – maintain an incredible amount of energy and focus throughout, made all the more impressive by constant changes of scene and character. You’d swear there are more than three of them, a fact excellently lampshaded at the end when two of Cameron’s characters are required onstage at once. The forward momentum does feel relentless at times, and some of the best moments come when the performers find space to play with the script, and to react to the little girl in absolute stitches in the front row. There’s also some fun audience interaction in plot – crucial moments, in fact, from an opening conversation via walkie-talkie to the battle with the villain at the end.
Sophia Clist’s design is a triumph, mixing sci-fi aesthetics with the sturdiest set I’ve ever seen on The Bike Shed’s flagstone floor, which allows the cast to properly climb around and over it. The sound effects are suitably retro, and the use of practical lighting is creative and well-executed (bar a few painfully blinding moments at the beginning). And the boyband dance routines are obvious highlights, even if it feels like they’re sometimes deployed to distract from some of the wobblier bits of the story.
But there are more than enough laughs to see Journey to the Impossible through any blind alleys in the plot. Stand-out moments: Armstrong’s excellently camp villain (who definitely needs more stage time); Bishop’s on-point and gloriously awkward friendzoning; and Cameron’s show-stealing turn as a wannabe thespian. It’s this brilliant sense of humour that makes it a cracking end-of-year show, regardless of whether it’s Christmassy or not. Smart, fast, and very, very funny, Journey to the Impossible is an uncynical fever dream of childhood nostalgia.
Journey to the Impossible is at The Bike Shed Theatre, Exeter, until January 6th. For more details, click here.