Theatre Centre’s latest offering for primary school children aged 9-11 is What the Thunder Said, a story that focuses on tackling violence and feelings of aggression. Whilst topic based theatre can often feel somewhat moralistic and twee, Theatre Centre yet again manages to strike the right tone with its young audiences.
Interestingly and somewhat topically, we adults were under strict instruction before the show started, not to attempt to ‘shh’ the children and to just “let them chill for an hour”. This is refreshing to hear as there’s nothing worse than seeing children being chastised just for externalising their emotions – and pertinently, emotion is a key theme in this modern-day piece. The story puts lead character Toilets at the centre of this piece. With clever, simple staging, the lead role is swiftly rotated between the three performers – Joseph Adelakun, Felix O’Brien and Imogen Rose, who each offer their own twist to each role they fill and work hard to keep the audience engaged.
In typical Theatre Centre style, What the Thunder Said seems timely and relevant. Ed Harris’s writing feels current and is well pitched, peppered with colloquialisms and good humour throughout. There are certainly enough nose picking and bottom jokes to make even the most nonchalant child crack a smile. We see our protagonist as the typical schoolboy having an imaginary play fight, all fake guns and explosions. We are bumped back to reality by the sound of a real fight taking place in the distance, with ominous thuds putting an end to the fun. Whilst not every child may have witnessed a fight, many will identify with the feelings of anger, or may have experienced bullying or even felt the push of peer pressure: here we have older brother Chris pressurising his younger sibling to join his gang.
What the Thunder Said dances between the real world of BB guns and pushy brothers and a dreamy underworld where sinister, faceless creatures called Yowlers prowl the Wasteland. Mirroring reality, these hooded figures thrive on fear, terrorising the inhabitants of the abstract world. Bird-like figures provided comedy with their giant padded bottoms – if anything their beaks could’ve been smaller as they impaired the performers’ voices slightly. These creatures live in fear of the Yowlers who are on the prowl to suck out their victims’ souls (through their noses no less). Finally there is the realisation that fear is the root of the problem – by losing the fear, the threat evaporates.
The soundtrack of the piece is fantastic. From the pulsing urban tracks, to the slapstick noises or the booming thunder, it is electric throughout. The set is mainly created using large black chalkboards on wheels and the costume is mainly made up of grey hoodies. But it doesn’t need anything else – the text flows well with great energy from the ensemble and it was great to see that the audience were completely rapt throughout.
We may forget what it’s like to be a child – the frustration, the confusion and the desire to fit in, but this is a refreshing reminder that ultimately, you are the one who gets to choose the path you follow – a really engaging piece of theatre for young people.