By Alice Mooney
Child’s Play is built upon the simple foundations of a children’s fairy-tale. Bring your friends, bring the kids, if you like. This one tickles the imagination but more importantly awakens a dormouse heart for those who have lost grounding. Child’s Play is an invigorating performance that exhausts the entirety of its tight sixty-minute timeslot. Written by and starring Jem Nicholas, she demonstrates the limits to which a woman can animate her body and voice to illustrate that which society has formerly oppressed. That is, Nicholas’ body and presence becomes a page, whereby voice produces text and movement provides illustration. Nicholas is no object but a force. As writer and performer, the brevity of her characters strike at you out of countless transitions. Just as you come to know them, they are replaced. She switches from accent to accent, mannerism to mannerism, fast, slow, up down, there is definitely pace and sitting in the front row at stage level is the best way to experience this.
Nicholas starts as narrator; a rambunctious and witty voice describes to audiences, a scene fitting of standard Grimms fairytales, but with perfect subtlety she adds an individual element of dry humour. First there are salmon, then a bear, a goat, a stallion, sorry isn’t this a one-woman show you ask? Precisely. It becomes apparent that within the first five minutes, we all may have seriously underestimated exactly what we should expect from the individual woman. The scene grows as Nicholas introduces Nina Red, The King, the huntsman, the dark one and several other characters into a story of power, greed and sacrifice. Notably, the morphing of woman to wolf. As Nina Red and her father, the King, are set against one another, the one thing standing between them remained power and the sacrifice required to gain it.
Nicholas’ transitions from character to character are abrupt and constant, which could have been lost on audiences had it not been for rapid complimentary lighting, altering colours that represented specific characters. Although it seems rudimentary, this worked perfectly in the black minimalist space because it did not patronise the audience’s vision. It instead, provided spaces between light, darkness, quiet and sound effects that ricochet off Nicholas' physicality like refraction. This, married with her strong register of voice and accents, rendered the tendency to forget you are only watching one woman, one body. Audiences will be compelled by Nicholas stamping on her single prop box, muscles flexed, fists clenched, to feel their own inner monster awake with anticipation. There is a clear interchange between audience and performer, heads in the crowd jut toward the stage, shallow breathing and tense bodies create a contagious energy.
I cannot fault this performance, personally because I still feel lost for words at having experienced physical theatre for the first time. There was an actor sitting next to me in the crowd who told me they were studying the Alexander technique and that this was her second time at the performance, being so inspired by Nicholas’ scope of physicality. But Child’s Play needn’t be restricted by its physical theatre, one-women show status to just those in the industry. Ellie Morgan’s direction is succinct, Nicholas orbits around a single prop but at no point does it become repetitive or dull. Nicholas rarely seeks the refuge of silence. You will certainly be hard pressed to witness anything as impressive as one woman performing a physically exhausting fight scene between King and wolf.
Child’s Play is what would happen if we could break into and acknowledge our repressed imagination with overwhelming physical commitment. It is strong, intelligent, emotional and witty.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.