One of the strengths of a festival like Offbeat is the diversity of the programme, with shows sitting shoulder-to-shoulder that are worlds apart. Proceedings kicked off with Idiot Child's What If The Planes Fell Out Of The Sky? a disorientating, juxtaposing show, equal parts light-hearted audience participation and bleak, black comedy. It is a show quite unlike anything I've seen before that perfectly encapsulates the variety of Offbeat in one show.
A trio of siblings await the return of their parents after 19 years of separation. Whilst they pass the hour, they introduce us to their Fear Camp and techniques for overcoming the anxieties that plague them e.g what if how you feel about the world and yourself at 4am is the truth? What if God does exist but you're not allowed to go to heaven and everyone else is because they all hedged their bets and prayed in secret? What if you took off all your clothes, and your lover just politely turned away?
The three siblings are skilfully played by Susie Riddell, a ball of authority and anxiety as the controlling Heron; Adam Fuller, as the sweet and fragile eldest sibling Magpie; and Emma Keaveney-Roys as the fascinating Feral Pigeon. They are each given moments to shine; from an introduction dominated by Riddell, through to Fuller acting out his death in an amusing fashion, and an early indication of trauma in Keaveney-Roys' initial breakdown. The trio navigate the show's comedic moments, audience interactions and the physical choreography, succeeding in building characters that feel multi-layered. What If The Planes Fell Out Of The Sky? feels like a snapshot into their world because of the hard work its cast put into building a world around us.
The detail that has gone into this production is exemplary; from the costuming of the cast (matching trousers, shirts, and braces, and individual badges) to the props on display through to the script itself. It is a production that is built to linger in the mind of the audience long after it has finished. There are many unpleasant themes as the audience takes in the fears and loathings of these deeply broken individuals, meaning that it is an exhausting piece to watch. It feels to me like the show can't quite combine the two halves it is presenting. The audience participation when used by the cast is invigorating, bringing the journey to us, whereas the darker moments are heavy with potential, intriguing details teased out amongst the gags. It is in the meshing of these two that the play comes unstuck with, and it feels like two shows performed simultaneously, and as disjointing as that sounds.
But it is difficult to critique too harshly a show that has an individual covering themselves in glitter to the Foreigner's 'I Want To Know What Love Is'. Doing too much in one hour is more impressive then not doing enough and while this feels like two distinctive plays mashed together, the experience of watching it is quite unlike anything I've encountered before in theatre.