Review: Big Bones, VAULT Festival

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, gather round and take your seats. Welcome to the Big Top Circus where many a freak of nature awaits to leave you stunned to silence. Marvel at our contortionist, wiry enough to fit herself into a vase. Have the world’s strongest man balance you on his finger. Gaze at the bearded lady as she combs her admirable moustache. And finally, stand in wonder and trepidation at the most extraordinary curiosity, the man whose horse rides him, the Irish Giant, Big Bones!

At least that’s how it once was at the Big Top Circus. In the days when Big Bones the Giant brought droves of audience members to the performances. But the circus might be performing its final show before very long. Ever since Big Bones’ skeleton was stolen and put on display in a museum against his dying wishes, a dreadful curse hangs over the theatre. They haven’t had a single audience member in over 100 years. Can Big Bones’ great-great-great-great-granddaughter Nora (Emma MacLean) and her new friends manage to save the theatre and finally lay both Big Bones’ skeleton and the curse to rest?

Inspired by the true story of the 18th-century ’Irish Giant’ Charles Byrne, Faceplant Theatre Company have created a rollicking family show about celebrating differences and finding out where you truly belong.

Big Bones by writers Alice Bounce, Owen Jenkins and Maxwell Tyler is filled with physical comedy and a spatter of well-placed jokes for the adults in the audience (although Uranus gags are enjoyable at any age). Composer Cat Gisby has created a series of catchy tunes, the final song is still stuck in my head (‘Everything is big at the Big Top…’) and encompasses the show’s message of friends becoming family and raising you to embrace what makes you stand out.

Actors MacLean, Joey Timmins, Lydia Hourihan, Grace Dunne and Alice Bounce revel in a myriad of unique characters, showing a lot of skill with quick costume changes and a variety of accents. Dunne’s strongman character Jim Membership definitely wins the best name in the show. However, Bounce and Timmins stint as the two sitcom-esque bumbling museum guards Gavin and Gareth is my favourite part of the play. Incompetently stumbling around, disrupting Hourihan, Dunne and MacLean’s stealthy museum heist, Bounce and Timmins give the perfect comedic duo. I wish Gavin and Gareth the best, but I do fear they have been fired from their positions.

Big Bones is a feat for family theatre. It ploughs its way forward without losing steam, setting an example for any company looking to create theatre for a young audience. Hearing both little voices and their parents still singing snippets of the show’s songs while leaving the theatre is, I think, proof enough that this is a performance anyone will enjoy.

Big Bones is playing the VAULT Festival until 16 February. For more information and tickets, visit the VAULT Festival website.