“I hope you step on a Lego brick” is one of the best incantations of rage I’ve ever come across. Since 1997 just such a painful fate has been a genuine worry for people walking on Cornish beaches. Twenty years ago, a ship was hit by a freak wave causing a number of its containers to drop overboard and into the ocean. Instead of sleeping with the fishes – or indeed, putting the fishes to sleep as Lego is highly dangerous to marine life – a multitude of tiny plastic figurines have been washing up on Cornish shores ever since.
It’s easy enough to see why this fascinating true-life story would appeal to theatremakers, as it has to the INKBLOK ensemble. Google the story and the pictures of tiny Lego dragons, daisies, brooms and octopuses waiting to be found on rocks or sand have a remarkably eerie quality to them. They remind me of tales of pixies or fairies (not least because of the Cornish setting) but with the added creepiness of ‘things coming out of the sea’. It is at core a great choice of story, which is precisely why it’s a shame the group fail to produce a coherent piece of theatre out of it.
Lego Beach weaves together the basic tale of Lego washing up on a small town beach with the disappearance of a young girl to produce a show that veers wildly between a moralism worthy of the Old Testament and slapsticky farce.
Bevill, as the town is called, is stricken with poverty. Reliant on the tourist trade, its inhabitants make do in the off-season with swapping services (a dog-groom for a bit of DIY) and waiting for the next influx of visitors. When a bunch of grockles rock up to fill their cagoule pockets with sea-salted Lego, the locals are understandably excited by their sudden literal change in fortune. However, greed – as Father Christmas would probably tell you – is not a good thing, and whilst everyone’s got their eyes turned on making a few quid selling, amongst other things, Lego fish and chips meal deals, no one notices that young Rosie (Jennie Harris) is nowhere to be seen.
Whilst there’s a legitimate point here about mercenary tendencies, Lego Beach labours the point so that it feels like the sort of sermon Jane Eyre’s St John would give, probably at some length, on a freezing Sunday morning. Moreover, it feels like the finger-pointing is directed pretty squarely at the broad-accented and caricatured locals rather than the hoards of outsiders who are genuinely only there as a means of getting rich quick.
There are a few stronger features to this work. The simplistic set design (Genevieve Sabherwal) of black rocks uncovered to reveal stacks of primary coloured boxes is effective and works as a reminder of how these plastic toys are lethally transformative to the natural world. Alexandra Wollacott, meanwhile, provides one of the best performances as Rosie’s friend Jo. A Jacqueline Wilson-style tomboy, she generously indulges Rosie’s incessant plea to turn any time spent together into communal beach-cleaning activities.
Similarly, the choice of a sea-shanty-suitable accordion providing the main musical accompaniment is a nice touch. The point of the Made in Bristol residency at the Bristol Old Vic is to support a group of 18-25 year olds in becoming theatremakers. Previous participants in the scheme include The Wardrobe Ensemble, Propolis theatre and Splint Theatre. Whilst Lego Beach is overwrought, INKBLOK ensemble prove they’re able to come up with fundamentally interesting ideas for a story (an often under-appreciated skill) and are ambitious in their vision. The building blocks, as they say, are here; it’s making something out of them that’s the next challenge.
For more information on Lego Beach, click here.