Sam (Neil Urquhart) and his brother Mike (Clark Alexander) used to love playing at Bicycle Boy and Pedal Power when they were kids; encouraged by their Grandad who ran a bike shop, they appreciated all things bicycle, but growing up has taken them on different paths. Sam is still a keen bike mechanic, full of fun facts about bike safety and generating electricity through pedal power, but Mike burns through energy on all his electronic devices much faster than Sam can pedal and is fast burning out mentally in the corporate world. This makes Sam sad, as does having to pack up the family bike shop even though Mike has popped by to help out. They get us to help too (from a safe social distance with lots of hand sanitiser) to discover one last gift that Grandad has left them.
Bicycle Boy (written and directed with smart efficiency by Helen Eastman) was originally commissioned by Oxford Playhouse for their PlaysOut initiative and in our lockdown world has adapted well to an outdoor performance. All the kids in the audience were keen to join in, and they are given lots of opportunity to do so, moments managed with gentle good humour by Urquhart, who gives Sam just the right amount of naïve enthusiasm. The task of keeping the adults entertained falls more on the characters that Alexander plays; with deft costume and voice changes he gives us grumpy Mike, brisk Dad and kindly Grandad. I do wonder if the kids got the nuances of the flashbacks and the tensions between Sam and Mike, and I think the show would have benefited from more slapstick humour and silly jokes – Sam is a bit too wholesome. Hats off to everybody though (front and back stage) for performing with such commitment in the rain.
One of the tricky things about reviewing children’s theatre is no longer being the age group it is aimed at, but thanks to the generosity of the company providing a family ticket I could co-opt neighbours Lilia (aged 8) and Max (4) to help out. Max is younger than the recommended age for the show but was mostly engaged and really loved pedalling hard to get the bubble machine to work.
A variety of different sized static bikes ring the stage, and do meet different access needs. Lilia thought the songs were really good and 36 hours later can still remember all the bicycle safety messages, sharing facts with friends about how much electricity all our household appliances use (or waste). With the help of catchy tunes (original music by composer Alex Silverman) and a lot of infectious energy Bicycle Boy gets its message across.
The company have all the measures in place to make sure a rainy performance is enjoyable and I am sure it is probably even more fun when the sun is shining.