Review: THE BUREAU OF UNTOLD STORIES at The Arch, Holden St Theatres

Review By Lisa Lanzi


After the emotional rigours of some of this year’s Adelaide Festival productions it was a joy to set out for some Fringe fare on a Sunday morning and be among the audience for The Bureau of Untold Stories at Holden St Theatres. Just a little West of the CBD, Holden Street is one of Adelaide’s Fringe Hubs and curates an amazing array of local and international acts of the highest quality.


Sean and Hollie Bryan of England’s Brymore Productions established a boutique theatre company in 2015. They design work to ignite the imagination and spark creativity in young audiences. Much of their work is semi improvised and immersive, enticing the young audience members up on stage and to become an integral part of the narrative.


The Bureau of Untold Stories is a mystery of epic proportions. Someone (the evil mastermind and word thief, Eraser) is stealing the world’s stories and detectives Dexter and Poppy are on the case, with some timely assistance from the audience. Dexter is a delightful, rangy and energetic character and Poppy is his very smart sidekick (with some fetching hat styles), albeit more in control than first observed. The stage is set with the detectives’ chaotic research charts (like a pin up board from CSI but messy and much prettier) and folders full of cases and clues and a lot more general clutter, but they definitely need help as they are only two and the mystery is deepening.


Both Sean and Hollie are wonderful, engaging actors who connect immediately with their audience, putting them at ease and encouraging them to contribute to the fun. Even if a child loses confidence, the performers are considerate and allow for another try if possible without anyone feeling left out.


After an initial desperate team meeting where the audience finds out the urgency of the crimes, Detectives Poppy and Dexter enlist the audience to assist. The first task is to come up with words that might fit into one of the lost stories. As the actors quiz the audience collecting a random selection of words that might just work in the story, the stage is set and the expectation clear. From then on, children in the audience were totally up for the challenge and gleefully and sometimes spontaneously made suggestions or joined the Bryans on stage. And of course, we all were ready to shout out the ubiquitous story beginning: Once Upon a Time as required.


One scene with four children on stage was the One Word Story game. Over about 5 minutes, with each person (including the actors) only allowed to utter one word at a time taking turns, the team ‘recovered’ a story about Dudley the Dinosaur and it was deposited in the story safe. More hilarity followed and Sean’s and Hollie’s impressive improvisation skills were at the forefront.

Another corker of a scene unfolded when an audience member was asked to recall or imagine a dream in only three words. Any more words and the word thief would be alerted and possibly steal the story before it could be retold. However, it was ‘possible’ for the detectives to flesh out the story on stage using the three words as inspiration, and so they did. Hilarity, props, physical theatre and mime featured while the audience attentively added suggestions.


The energy and commitment to fashion fine theatre for young people is huge but fortunately Sean and Hollie Bryan are perfectly suited to this challenge. The show of course came to a happy conclusion and we were given a mission, should we choose to accept it. That mission? To tell stories, write tales and share them widely in the world. The young audience members were also invited, if they wished, to contribute to the “help us save 1,000 stories” project. So head on over to the Brymore website for more details and to add your wonderful stories (but check with an adult first) : https://www.brymoreproductions.com/


I am impressed that Adelaide Festival and Fringe are now working to programme performing arts content for younger audiences. The Bureau of Untold Stories is one of the successes. CATCH IT IF YOU CAN!

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.

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