Using a combination of visual storytelling, British Sign Language, live music, sound and puppetry, Mac’s Arcadian introduce their first play Great Odds at the Little Angel Theatre. Co-produced with Lighthouse Poole and supported by Improbable, this new production is aimed at D/deaf and hearing family audiences. Re-founded this year by Esther McAuley, Mac’s Arcadian was first realised in the late 1940’s by her grandparents Margaret and John McAuley as a travelling show. The pair told stories by blending vaudeville-style sketches with the universal languages of music, mime and dance, a philosophy that McAuley has adapted for the contemporary stage in the form of creative access for disabled artists and spectators of all ages.
Designed by Amelia Bird, the stage is tactile and colourful. Illuminated by clam shells, a row of dazzling garments embraces a clothes rail nestled between two wooden trunks. Beyond, a crowded display unit and a chest of drawers are immersed in lone bicycle wheels and empty picture frames, all looking on at the barnacles that divide the business of plays and the theatre of life. White tape traces a ‘trunk spot’ centre stage and the word ‘actors’ reads underfoot with three arrows pointing to a trio of eccentric performers. Welcome to the Great Odds Theatre.
The space is home to the three Great Odds; Marco (Jim Fish), Grouch (Charlotte Arrowsmith) and Jewels (Sophie Coward). Together, they thrive within their artistic environment but soon get a nasty shock when their Big Boss demands that they supply her with an increased rent charge. They have only twenty-four hours to acquire an extra five-hundred-pounds or else they face eviction. In order to explore this narrative in more depth, themes of ambition, communication and friendship are personified by a small puppet and its quest to follow a dream through an unfamiliar and often precarious world.
The unusual address in Grimm’s Bridge merges with Islington’s N1 postcode as the troupe weave the audience into their narrative in a bid to save their beloved playhouse. Dialogue is accompanied by a flourish of BSL and is accentuated by bizarre noises that lead to hushed squeals of delight from younger mouths. A magical soundscape is created through an inventive use of everyday objects and this works well to command the attention of their junior audience. At times, songs are used as a device to unpick difficult circumstances, particularly in the event of a visit from the Big Boss through a flat screen television. Dressed in a tweed suit and a stormy grey wig, her pink lipstick and sallow complexion threaten the progress of our heroes and consistently creates new obstacles for them to overcome. However, this nasty executive is no match for the multitalented cast and although they are unable to arrive at their original goal, they discover a far more favourable alternative along the way.
McAuley’s script manages to simplify mature emotional conflicts and is intelligently written. The performance is bold and retains a wonderful sense of adventure throughout, but it is its accessibility which demands the highest praise. There was a sense of restlessness from some children towards the end, but the company need only to keep a consistent pace between major events in the plot to remedy this. Mac’s Aracdian possess huge potential and their place within present-day theatre making looks very promising indeed.
Great Odds played at the Little Angel Theatre until November 12.