Stratford in its multicultural essence is a brilliant place for voices to be heard and stories to be shared. The Stronger than Fear festival is being appropriately hosted here, with Beyond The Blue featuring a tale of Toyland in the midst of a horrific war. This story is told differently, as the piece has been written by children, paralleling the refugee crisis happening in the world as we speak and placing this in Toyland, something to which they can relate with and comprehend. I understand that the idea behind children writing the piece, which is performed and multi-rolled by four adults, is to show the level of understanding that the children of our disintegrating world are facing as a reality.
When coming to see a show written by children, it is crucial to not forget that it is just that, a play from the perspective of children (which seems to include quite young children). I found that at times, having this play performed by adults for adults, didn’t completely fit.
The space offered by Gerry’s Studio, with its wide length and shallow space taken up by two large tents, can be very accommodating for the right show. We see four toy characters dressed in hoodies and different styles of fur hats to represent the characters on their journey from their beloved home, through the struggles of travelling, loneliness, and desperation.
Throughout the piece, I felt myself craving for more juxtaposition within this. I have to keep reminding myself that children are the original voice of this, but I feel as though the setting, costumes and the way in which some of the direction was handled, could have aided better in creating something extremely powerful. I am also craving more knowledge about the creative process, such as how many children wrote the piece and how they (both children and adults) helped the creative process. The reason for this is, for an audience of adults, it seems like quite a light touch on the refugee crisis. If the desired audience are adults, then I want to see more of a haunting nature with the piece, such as real Toyland decorations (even on a tight budget, this can still be done effectively), costumes that commit more to the light and fluffy lifestyle they were once used to, maybe even with mud or dirt marks on them. Add this to a teddy bear screaming with despair and you’ve got yourself an extremely powerful piece which would reflect the discomfort that is usually created by talking about those in less fortunate situations than every other person in the room.
I think the play would, however, be brilliant to take on a tour through schools as an educational piece. With its narrative level, it would be appropriate for kids to grasp, and the lighter texture to the piece would be more suitable. There are some strong moments that children would vastly engage with, such as seeing the evil queen, watching the toys bounce through the clouds, and the use of multi-rolling by all was handled very well. With some slight tweaking and adaptation, this could be a very good project for the right audience.
Beyond The Blue played at Gerry’s Studio until 17 February 2018
Photo: Theatre Royal Stratford East