We all know everyone loves a happy ending. For this purpose, Little Bulb’s Extravaganza Macabre seems just the thing to usher in the new courtyard theatre space at Battersea Arts Centre. Following a year that saw a huge chunk of the registered building decimated by fire, staging Little Bulb’s exuberantly creative work feels like a celebration of the BAC’s similarly hopeful future.
The play follows the love story of Elizabeth and Ernest, a drippy turn of the century courtship torn asunder by a terrible storm, amnesia and a villain copied and pasted right out of Boucicault. Enlisting the help of all singing, thigh slapping cockney orphan Chipper, his loyal Dog Dog and a nurse with a mysterious connection to the spirit world, the pair desperately fight to be together and restore order to an increasingly farcical Victorian world.
Neither terribly extravagant nor particularly macabre, the play is bright and dazzling daftness crafted by a company with a lot of love for this space. Great use is made of the various levels of the narrow new theatre, with our heroes leaping in and out of trap doors, crawling through audience members and evildoers dangling maidens from the balconies (fret not dear reader, no maidens were harmed in the writing of this review). Damsels are distressed, swashes are buckled, moustaches are twirled and true love (spoilers) conquered all. We even got a little Princess Bride-style ‘mawwaige’ courtesy of Dominic Conway’s overly enthusiastic priest. Throw in a set of train tracks to tie someone to and we’d hit melodramatic bingo.
There’s a boundless joy in Little Bulb’s approach to storytelling, and heaps of talent to boot. Clare Beresford in particular was a stand out with comic timing and lung capacity in spades.
Not unlike The Princess Bride, Extravaganza feels like a love letter to that which it sends up. Melodrama is so often an insult flung at the unimaginative, the uninspired and the unconvincing, we forget that the word has roots in the kinds of high octane thrills and spills that attracted audiences for miles around, like a tear-stained Nick Sparks epic crossed with a bowler-hatted Michael Bay catastrophe. These stories are sheer glee and escapism, and Little Bulb’s Extravaganza captures that spirit, with enough knowing winks and self-deprecating gags to keep a postmodern audience’s irony radar through the roof.
Theatrical revolution this is not, but it’s impossible to deny the main feeling emanating from this production is kindness. Audience participation is gentle and warm-hearted, blankets and ponchos sit on standby in case of chill or damp, ale, gin and pies are aplenty at the halfway mark. As the sun goes down in the courtyard, fairy lights twinkle and the possibility of rain does not threaten the undampenable energy. The BAC resident mouser stalks the pews and curls up in the glow of the beaming audience. Everyone loves a happy ending, and here, a happy beginning is no different.
Extravaganza Macabre is on until 26th August 2016. Click here for more details.