Taking Flight Theatre breathe fresh life (and fire) into Kathryn Cave’s charming tale of childhood fears and how to deal with them. The company aims to produce bold and imaginative theatre with D/deaf, disabled, and non-disabled actors, and in a performance which interweaves written captions, British Sign Language and audio description, everyone is welcomed into the world of Benjamina, her dad, and their troublesome dragons. Like all of us, Ben has fears which prey on her mind, taking the form of dragons which frighten her and sometimes make her behave unexpectedly. With the help of her dad, who has worries of his own, Ben learns to make peace with her dragons, and even treat them as familiar friends.
The atmosphere in this performance at the Pegasus Theatre is just right: formal enough to make it a special occasion, but sufficiently relaxed that no one minds small children traipsing to the loo, making helpful observations, or giving the occasional wail at something a little scary. Billed as being suitable for ages 3-10, this is of course not a frightening play, and the lights dimming for the start of the show counts as one of the tenser moments which might alarm a young audience. Before the play begins, members of the cast come up to introduce themselves to small people who might be feeling disorientated, and once on stage they explain what’s happening and who they’ll be playing, to make sure everyone understands and feels at ease.
The actors, whose friendly introductions, displayed on a board in the lobby, tell a little about their background and specify whether they are D/deaf, hearing impaired, or hearing, make this great fun to watch, using music and a great deal of physical humour. Charlie Raine takes an engaging lead as Ben, cheerful and fun, but plausibly childlike and troubled. Sam Bees gives a sensitive turn as her dad, and also provides the delightful original live music which accompanies the action. Stephanie Back and Roger Hudson provide some great comic moments and are by turns scary, friendly and mischievous as the dragons.
The overall message of the piece, that the things which scare us can be managed and can even in some ways enhance our lives, and that everyone suffers from doubts and fears of their own, was largely lost of my six-year old, whose ability to distinguish between metaphorical and literal dragons is still developing, but that didn’t matter a bit. She was enthralled by the performance, the music and the dry ice, and enjoyed the story. After an initial period of absorbed appraisal, the three year old’s attention did wander a little, but was brought sharply back into the moment by his two favourite parts of the show: a machine sending bubbles around the auditorium, and one of the actors being repeatedly hit in the face.
This is a well-judged performance with plenty in it to keep children and adults entertained, and its emphasis on accessibility and inclusivity makes a warm, friendly and fun atmosphere in which to share a story.