In A Pickle was commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company and originally performed as part of The World Shakespeare Festival in 2012. It is a totally immersive show designed for 3-5 year olds. The audience is first transported by the Shepherdess and her flock to a sheep party where they celebrate the season’s shearing. When they find a lost baby, the children help to care for it and then send it back to the castle; where the king is grieving for his lost child and the Queen has turned into a statue. The Winter’s Tale informs both the narrative and the language used in In a Pickle, and the show incorporates its own musical compositions into the storytelling.

Griff Fender, Stephanie Rutherford and Sheema Mukherjee playing the sheep, and Katherine Vernez playing the Shepherdess meet the audience as they come in and offer them sheep costumes, allowing them to enter the performance immediately. The show starts incrementally and informally, with characters introducing themselves and freeing the children from the strange formalities of conventional theatre. This facilitates further openness between the performers and audience once the audience is led to the sheep party and the show begins. The interaction between the characters on stage was full of warmth and silliness, and easily appeals to our emotions. But crucially the show appeals to all senses: wind is created, herbs and flowers handed out to smell, and bubbles are released at the audience. The children gather round for sleep-time with the sheep, until the baby’s discovery accelerates the pace of the narrative at just the right moment.

The costume and stage design were particularly brilliant – the two long tables which began as soft grassy fields were transformed into watery runways with sea weed and shells. Children were then seated at high tables covered with glorious pies when the Black Sheep entered the castle. The narrative and setting were always clear and completely engaging.

Over the last 35 years Oily Cart’s contribution to children’s theatre, specifically children’s immersive theatre, has been extraordinary. Initially focusing on productions for the very young, Tim Webb and his team then began creating theatre experiences for children with severe educational needs; seeing clearly the value their shows would have for audiences not typically catered for in theatre. Oily Cart make shows which can be experienced in different ways, using different means of communication; which means working with limitations. In a Pickle can be defined by its simple and direct interactions between performers and audience members. The show sparkles with the sharpness of its imagination and the clarity of its design, and it is for this reason that watching is a delight for children and adults alike.

As one of the only attendees without a child in tow, I still really, truly enjoyed myself. It was a reminder of how good and useful immersive theatre can be. Oily Cart ensures that the audience’s world of imagination is the basis for the construction of the show, and also ensures that the immersive elements are integral rather than superficial. Particularly satisfying to watch was the way that children were encouraged to acknowledge the theatricality of the show. Orange carrots handed out became the children’s own orange fish, and children were happy to act using invisible objects. As a result of the intelligent relationship created between performer and audience, the show resonates on many levels. Ultimately, it has a wide appeal due to the simplicity and magnificence of the costume, set and sound design. It is the perfect thing to go along to with your child this Christmas period.

In a Pickle is showing at artsdepot until the 31 December before touring nationally and internationally in 2017. For more information and tickets please see here.