Review: Shebaa's Adventure to Jopplety How, Concrete Youth

I’m ashamed to say I’m something of a novice when it comes to sensory performance, perhaps because it is still a relatively new medium, or perhaps because there are no small children or people with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities in my life. 

I have missed out. It’s delightful. Once you get used to the format and style, it’s really sweet and heartwarming, or at least “Shebaa’s Adventure to Jopplety How”  is anyway. 

Creating sensory performance is challenging at the best of times but Concrete Youth have managed to craft an at-home sensory experience which is accessible, fun and a lovely story of self-discovery. 

The experience begins before you even click play, by going on a treasure hunt for the sensory items required to take part in the experience around your own home. Given that Shebaa is a sheep, I could immediately see what the soft, woolly blanket would be used for but I was very intrigued as to why I’d need a pebble, an orange, a paper fan and a percussive shaker. 

Alongside a list of required items, the production team has composed an extensive programme including simplified versions of all the usual components – synopsis, biographies etc; and a visual introducing all characters and giving deliberate instructions for audience participation. 

Jodie Hay is engaging and dynamic as both Shebaa and the Narrator. Her facial expressions and clear gestures make her eminently watchable and the Makaton (courtesy of consultant Prit Chouhan) is well integrated and unobtrusive. Hay’s West Country accent and the odd elongated sheep’s baa slipped into her speech are great little additions by director Belle Streeton. 

Costumes and makeup are precise and bright – indicative of simple and clearly delineated characters. James Lewis-Knight differentiates between his four roles well, using posture and speech pattern to full effect. Transparency is the order of play in this production; SFX, backgrounds, slides to encourage use of sensory props etc are all explicitly defined. I really enjoyed the opportunity to make my own rain SFX using the shaker- it’s obvious how much the intended audience would appreciate being involved like this. The plot is straightforward and easy to follow, with most speech in rhyme, and tells an unpretentious story about friendship and inclusion. 

Whilst I understand the limitations of producing a piece such as this, I can’t help but feel that in parts it lacks polish and feels clunky; possibly due to the nature of rehearsing and performing in isolation. As we become more accustomed to creating work in a digital way, I’m sure that Concrete Youth and their creative partners will be able to iron out these minimal issues for their next venture like this and I look forward to watching it.

Shebaa’s Adventure to Jopplety How is available to watch now on the Concrete Youth website.