I love watching shows with children. Their bullshit radar is incomparable. It’s so utterly refreshing to hear a four-year-old bellow “MUMMY WHAT IS GOING ON?” two rows behind you with absolutely no regard for anyone around them.
But it’s hard to review and hard to make – part of my brain spends the entire show wired into the kids around me, trying to gauge their reactions – if they’re whispering to their mothers that they’re bored, if they’re cackling in the way that only kids can, if they’re so wrapped up in the show that they gasp at every lighting change. I’m so much more aware of narrative lulls than in a typical show, vaguely terrified that the child behind me is going to lose interest and do – Something – I don’t know what. Express their anger and dissatisfaction in an uncontrollable (un-British) way. The stakes feel higher in a children’s show.
Duckie is Le Gateau Chocolat’s first show for kids and despite being a tidy forty minutes, there were a few sighs and questions from the kids in the row behind me. Le Gateau Chocolat has always been this amazing, charismatic presence but this time it’s not quite enough to push the show through its narrative peaks and troughs. It’s an affirming take, a kids’ cabaret version of The Ugly Duckling with a final message of acceptance and tolerance which glitters with warmth and genuine passion, but the writing feels overly dense without enough of a visual flair in the direction to properly engage us.
It’s deliberately episodic, in the manner of a picture book, which is charming and digestible, and yet it lacks a narrative rigour. The show is at its strongest when Le Gateau interacts with the audience, the freer moments when he prowls up the stairs with a tutu on his head, pretending to be a lion, pinching the cheeks of awestruck children, or when he makes the audience quack at him increasingly loudly. He’s at his most charismatic when he has someone to actively play off, not just the narrator’s prim voiceover which feels increasingly intangible and uninteresting. It feels tightly choreographed – too tightly contained, not free enough to really enjoy.
Part of the issue is the space – Summerhall’s Main Hall is this surprisingly big, raked end-on stage. There’s perhaps a little too much distance from Le Gateau, a little too much archness to the way the audience is seated which doesn’t make us feel as much like we’re in a warm storytelling atmosphere. The last time I saw Le Gateau was in The Gate’s stunning Effigies of Wickedness – in comparison, a tiny space which forced this sense of intimacy and camaraderie, an atmosphere Le Gateau flourished in and took charge of easily.
There’s less control in Duckie, and he struggles to hold the audience in the palm of his hand as he is so apt to do. But there are some moments of unadulterated weirdness which elicited roars from the audience, children and adults alike – Le Gateau doing the running man and singing a Pussycat Dolls song felt like something from a late-night cabaret transplanted to a 2pm show and I revelled in the chaos. The silliness is what makes the show shine, and I have a feeling it will loosen up and become more embracing of the natural pandemonium of children’s theatre throughout its run.
Duckie is on until 12th August 2018 at Summerhall. Click here for more details.