It’s quite literally a breath of fresh air: sitting on the front lawn of the beautiful Cogges manor house, watching live theatre for the first time in months. Warm sun, light breeze, and, brought to us by fantastic cycle-touring theatre company the Handlebards and Green Submarine Theatre, a heart-warming tale of gnomes freed from confinement, exploring the proper way to celebrate in style.
The setting is lovely and carefully thought out. Upwards of twenty socially-distanced groups sat on blankets and camping chairs, watched over by friendly volunteers (with handy long canes which I think were rather gorgeously rustic two-metre measures but did look like they might be useful for poking people who got too close), and the show got underway.
Gnora the gnome, with her brothers Gneville and Gnorman, is excited to have the run of the garden now the humans are no longer spending all their time there, and is determined to mark the occasion with a disco. The only problem is that none of them knows what a disco actually is. Evidently such an important question can only be answered by a gnomic odyssey taking in the potting shed, beehive and pond, seeking wisdom from the surprising creatures that live in the garden.
The production is pared-down, as you’d expect from a company which tours and transports its sets by bicycle, and also in this instance because the show has been rehearsed in such unusual circumstances. After the cancellation of their 2020 season, the Handlebards turned their skills to delivering groceries to those shielding, and to providing free online Shakespeare workshops for young people. Eventually, with the easing of lockdown, three members of the company living in the same household have been able to create a version of Romeo and Juliet, as well as this charming and funny show for the under 10s.
Lucy Green is delightful as Gnora: exhuberant, warm and with a funny naivety which really brings the young audience on side as they shout suggestions to help her on her way. Tom Dixon and Paul Moss as Gnorman and Gneville throw themselves into their roles with enthusiastic but nuanced silliness, and there’s lots of variation, as all three cast members take the parts of various garden creatures. Plenty of distraction is provided for the grown-ups too, of course, not least in the form of pop music references and relentless garden-based wordplay – plus the creeping fear that one may be called upon to dance. Audience participation is expected, of course, as we are all magical creatures invited to the mysterious disco, but it’s mainly provided by the children so there’s nothing for creaky adults to worry about.
Our four- and seven-year-olds really enjoyed the show, delighted by the music and dancing, the physical humour and the jokes they understood, and thrilled to shout out corrections to adults being silly. In our family our then five-year-old’s confusion of ‘disco’ and ‘Tesco’ still causes much merriment (‘but where is the music and the flashing lights..?’), so we’re acutely aware that ‘what is a disco?’ is one of life’s great questions, and one to which we were excited to help provide an answer.
This show is just what’s needed at the current time, a wonderful chance to enjoy an hour of simple artistry, silliness and celebration.