Spawny John (Lydia Lakemoore) and his friend, Duck (Rosie Grundy-Orchison), an inflatable duck, are sitting halfway down a Butlins water slide, eating and chatting away. They are frequently interrupted by peculiar characters such as the highly energetic Frog (Grace Felton), or the annoying kids who find Spawny John too old for the slides. This is the slightly absurd premise of Dirty Rascals‘ Thlides, directed by Pavlos Christodoulou and performed as part of the Camden Fringe Festival, bringing you an evening of DIY existentialism.
It is certainly difficult to build chemistry with a plastic duck on stage, but both Lakemoore and Grundy-Orchison do an excellent job at presenting a unique and hilarious relationship; Lakemoore’s calm attitude masks a subtle anxiety, while Grundy-Orchison’s manipulates Duck with attention and a great sense of comedy. Ashley Winter enters the stage numerous times as one of the kids wearing t-shirts with some exposition written on them, and also returns once as Spawny John 2, who is nearly identical to Spawny John and who also likes slides. But her truly funny moment arrives when she becomes Sherpa, a traveller accompanied by a dragon (a puppet manipulated by Louise Wilcox), who shares her Instagram caption-esque wisdom with John and encourages him to leave his limbo.
There are many things to read into this performance; what does the slide represent? What does Spawny John’s inertia symbolise? Why is there so much talk of food? But after a couple of minutes I started to smile not only due to the play’s humour, but also at my own need to find some kind of subtext. Thlides has a distinct tone, inviting you to find deeper meaning but never allowing you to get too philosophical. Their DIY set, consisting of an inflatable pool with den-like linen backdrop makes the production cosy and comfortable. The script receives many laughs and flows well on stage, even though I must admit I did get confused at some points. But because of the absurdist nature of the play I didn’t mind being left in the dark. The ensemble works brilliantly together, but each character has time to shine individually. One of the most memorable moments is when Cassie (Wilcox), a young girl with a lisp helps Spawny John to write a letter to his friend, Mackers. Heartfelt moments like this are what make Thlides much more than absurdist fun; it’s a show with true heart. Dirty Rascals know how to make unique theatre, and are definitely a company to keep an eye on.