Oxford Playhouse Plays Out is a fantastic venture bringing audiences out of the theatre and over to surprising locations across Oxford. Around this time last year they were honouring Roger Bannister's 4 minute mile at the Iffley Road running track, and this spring they celebrate the world's best invention – the brilliant bicycle!
Bicycle Boy sees Sam packing up and moving out of his family-run bicycle workshop business - Lanford & Sons. His brother, Mike, has come to help him out, but they get side-tracked in reminiscing about their favourite childhood bikes and games - and seeking a very special present.
Mike is an uber-modern gadget-fanatic who drives to the gym (tut tut) and has a ‘proper' job, where he sits at a desk and wears a suit. His return to childlike games with Sam subverts this very business-like, grown-up demeanour; which is a pleasure for young and old(er!) alike, as we get to share the liberating feeling of silliness with him. Sam, however, is sensitive and thoughtful, and the show almost becomes a mourning process for him: as he says goodbye to his business, his passion and his family's heritage – albeit through plenty of fun and games.
As the lead, Sam directs the action and manages the audience interaction with the children in the front rows. At times, his nostalgia and the very personal nature of his search for the 'special present' can almost counteract the kind of clowning needed in this sort of production. It's really hard to strike a balance between being assertive enough to direct childrens' attention toward surprising elements or conclusions, but also sharing the same wide-eyed innocence with them. Leon Scott's characterisation is perhaps almost a bit too profound to be believably naïve. However, I would put this mostly down it having been the opening night of an interactive show, and the unpredictability of performing to young children. That he performed energetically and made you care for his character and his back-story was essentially a good thing.
The Osney Mill Marina Garage provides a perfect location, and the informal setting and cluttered design make you feel instantly at home. The space is fully used and the layers of bicycle equipment and general workshop bits and pieces covering every surface camouflage the various exciting props which come into play, so that the whole space is really brought to life and imbued with the story.
On leaving Bicycle Boy, anyone and everyone will be thrilled by the possibilities provided by their bikes - from the escapism and freedom they bring, to their functionality and eco credentials, or even their super-power to generate electricity. Whatever you take from Bicycle Boy, you will want to be getting 'on yer bike'.