William Glenn, Fringe Review, 16th May 2014
Orlando Fringe – Oyster Boy
Oyster Boy is the tale of an ill-fated sea-side dwelling family, told through song and dance, puppetry and clever use of materials. Sprinkled with uke (you’ve got to have a little uke these days) this dark comedy storytelling is more about the performance than about the story itself.
Hailing from London, Haste Theatre are no strangers to the US, having trotted the globe before, performing in San Diego, London, Edinburgh, and in Europe. Their work is clever; hand-made; lo-fi and, tumbling out of their wicker baskets, it unfolds across a series of dreamy settings that materialise around us as we spectate. An all-girl troupe, their work is haunted by the ghosts of vaudeville – not political, but fanciful, and with a sort of dust bowl edge that marries up to their continental sensibilities nicely.
Settled into the cavernous space of the silver venue, we are cloaked in the anonymity of the proscenium. As fringe venues go, this theatre is vast, raked seating marching up to disappear in dim recesses of darkness. The stage spreads across our vision, a blank landscape of gentle colour lapping at a midnight black shore. It’s large enough, it could swallow the quartet chorus (Elly-Beaman Brinklow, Elena Costanzi, JesseDupré, and Sophie Taylor) whole as they emerge to set the stage. This is, really, the only serious complaint we have about this show – it’s an intimate piece of physical storytelling, a hand-crafted structure of dreams spun together, and at times we lose some of the detail in the enormous room. It’s difficult to hear hushed voices delivering nuanced lines – the echoey room soaking up the angels’ share of the performance.
The real delight of Oyster Boy lies in the endlessly innovative use of materials – the whimsical way patchwork sheets are transformed into a roaring surf, an italian cafe, an obstetrics wing… We could go on. Location after location comes billowing out of an army of wicker picnic baskets and a cavalcade of curious characters comes tripping on their heels as the chorus are joined by Jim and Alice (Valeria Compagnoni and Anna Plasberg-Hill). We love the vivacious Molly and Polly especially. Common experiences are transformed into surreal happenings by this energetic troupe of performers who all met at St Mary’s University prior to forming Haste Theatre.
This is an analogue dramady – an intriguing glimpse of the Italian seaside; a tiny town where unspeakable things happen, and ordinary people contend with extraordinary circumstances. A physical, surreal adventure into a mysterious world, peopled by oddly off-kilter types, Oyster Boy is a unique and refreshing experience on this year’s Orlando Fringe – a very British telling of an unlikely tale. Go and see it.