Marianne (almost 5) and I were optimistic as we headed out to the Unicorn Theatre. We’ve found it one of the most reliable places for family theatre, with most of the productions providing something for grown-ups to enjoy as well as kids - and Jeramee, Hartleby and Oooglemore has been a great success for them, returning this year for a second run.
In essence, JH&O is the simplest of plays: just three characters arriving on a beach, one by one, and enjoying it in their different ways - while the only dialogue is their three names repeated over and over (think a slightly more elaborate version of the way Upsy Daisy and Iggle Piggle communicate in In the Night Garden).
Hartleby came first, played by a woman actor with Rowan Atkinson levels of facial and bodily physical comedy skill. Her first big set piece was trying to get into a swimsuit - putting it on over her clothes and getting into various other disastrous and awkward contortions - which, of course, is something that any child who’s had dressing troubles can relate to (as can the parents).
Oooglemore was a dreamier, maybe a little away-with-the-fairies character. He was played by a tall guy who we recognised as having played the lead in Septimus Bean and his Amazing Machine at the Unicorn: one of the kids’ favourites - they still reminisce about how the amazing machine somehow “crash landed” in the foyer at the end of the show.
Jeramee arrived as the other two cavorted around, and though they were all child-like, he was clearly a parent figure in the group. He wanted to put up his deckchair, read his newspaper and relax, but at various points the other two were both bellowing his name to get help: something every weary parent of more than one kid can relate to. When Hartleby chucked a paddy because she felt Jeramee’s lavishing too much attention on Oooglemore, it was done with great sensitivity - managing to be funny, while still touching a nerve, and reflecting back to the kids what it’s like to be out of control of your emotions.
The stage/beach sloped down to meet the audience at the “sea line”, and the youngest in the audience - Marianne included - sat on the floor, so there was no real boundary between action and crowd. The play worked with this very well, especially when a beach ball comes out and the trio’s game extended to throwing it into the crowd for the kids to fling back.
Likewise it was easy to feel part of the action when they played “invisible tennis”, or when there’s an “underwater swimming” scene - the brilliant sound design, which blends beach sounds and music, drew us further into the little world. It rounded off with a dance, with all the kids down the front joining in, including Marianne, who was thrilled to hold Oooglemore’s hand as she got her groove on.
Simple it might be, but as we know well from kids’ books and TV, the simplest ideas need the best execution to avoid boredom or blandness. JH&O definitely didn’t disappoint: it captured the basic pleasures and frustrations in kids’ (and parents’) worlds very elegantly, it was charming in its depiction of friendship, and it kept both of us laughing too. No wonder it’s been popular - it easily maintains the Unicorn’s high standards.
She and her team put on family raves with all the freedom and excitement of a mini-festival, right in the heart of cities and towns across the UK. You can find them at Dreamland Margate, on April 8th, and at lots of venues nationwide in the coming months.
ABOUT THE SHOW
JERAMEE, HARTLEBY AND OOOGLEMORE, 2017 is A UNICORN PRODUCTION
Clore Theatre Adults: £16 and Under 18s: £10 (until 9th April, 2017)
Ages: 3+, Duration: 50 mins
UNICORN LATE: THU 6 APR, 7.30PM
Why should the kids have all the fun? This show has been making the Unicorn staff laugh so hard that we thought we should let adults see it too. We're putting on an evening performance that is followed by free live music in the foyer. Visit the Unicornershop for 3 for 2 offer on craft beers.
FOR SCHOOLS (SUITABLE FOR NURSERY - YEAR 2)
Schools tickets from £7.50
Resources coming soon
Got a question? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Book tickets and find out more about access at the Unicorn.
If you are attending a relaxed performance, a visual story will be made available ahead of your visit.
Wednesday 29 March 2017, 10.30
Sunday 2 April 2017, 10.30