The Owl and the Pussycat went to Belgrade, in a beautiful pea green boat. And you, too, can sail along the Jam River this half term!
“Always look on the bright side of life.”
Eric Idle and the Monty Python lot are well known for this utterance from The Life of Brian. ‘The Quite Remarkable Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat’ makes this unavoidable. The musical previewed on the 18th of February in 2017 and there was not an empty seat in the house. It is aimed towards children and based on Eric Idle’s book, which in turn was based on the poem by Edward Lear. The novel is witty, humorous and dramatic as we follow the protagonists’ adventures to the Land of Bong with Professor Bosh’s “help”. Whilst the poem was released in the 1970’s, the musical has not been around as long and has been made specially for the Belgrade, unfortunately for everyone else. It has been highly anticipated for months. I am glad to say that the showing of it lived up to Coventarian locals’ high expectations. What could be better than an Owl and a Pussycat singing about the magical Bong Tree, played by Eric Idle himself?
The stage starts with a digital background of shaded shapes and a single telescope centre-stage, a blue light glinting off it. The air is thick with suspense. At first, the cast walks in through the usual entrance, playing a little song as though to set the scene. At this point, they are out of character and converse with the crowd. Thus begins the immersion process. They walk amongst us and we are equals. You know you’re in for a treat before they even step on the stage.
As this is a musical, it would be wrong not to discuss how the music added to this performance. With many songs, it can become overwhelming and sometimes boring but Director Dougal Irvine, who also appears in the show, ensures this is not the case. Songs such as ‘The Volcano Rap’ and ‘Change’ feature a large amount of humour, also breaking the fourth wall to keep us immersed as we adventure along with the Owl and the Pussycat. The songs are essential to giving plot points and context to the story.
As children are the target audience, this means language has to be appropriate for them. To discover whether this was true, I asked Ethan, aged 6, whether he thought the play how coherent, fun and interesting he thought it was. From a lengthy conversation with the attendee, it was found that he thought “it was a little bit funny because the owl hoots and the man turns his hat around to play different characters which was really clever, but it was also scary because the volcano is not nice”. When asked whether he understood everything he replied ‘Yeah, and it was really clever’. Upon attendance to a press conference, this was something Irvine touched upon. He explained that he had to think it through a lot, as he wanted to target children but the ideas explained in the play were too complex for younger children, hence the 6+ rating.
To help appropriate this for children, Irvine tackled the idea of doubling up on characters, which was unavoidable with just 7 members in the cast, minus Idle. Originally, it can come across as confusing, with children assuming they are the same character, this was particularly true for Ghanty, who plays two characters. Whilst his body posture does change, it may come across as strange to the younger ones, making it all that more important to have ‘the hat’, people who’ve previously seen the show will know ‘The Hat’, through using this, the transition becomes smoother and easier to follow.
Through the use of scenery, the antagonist’s lair had the effect desired with the hues of reds, oranges and yellows. Ethan’s opinion was something that was also true for other children and adults alike, shown by the uproar of laughter as Ghanty, playing both Flicker and Brimstone, stage fights with himself.
Not only is the show itself spectacular, immersing the audience through the use of digital projections that bring the scenes to life, using music that got the audience humming along and tapping their feet and so much more, but the message that comes along with it is something not to be forgotten. It should be shared amongst everyone. Whether you’re an owl, a pussycat, the son of all sons, a pie loving rat, a small guitar or a pig who just loves to dance, however different you are, it’s okay. Accept others for their differences, no matter what. Don’t change, accept.
Unfortunately, the future for play is hazy. Their shows at Belgrade Theatre are incredible, but they wait to hear, eagerly, from anyone who wants to pick up the show. It would be a shame for it to end so soon, and we would welcome them back with open arms if a tour were to happen.
All in all, the play itself was breathtaking. It was everything you want in a play, funny for the children and adults, clever and a little bit sad. So, for all who haven’t seen this play, I and so many others of the cheering audience from the Belgrade encourage you to go, you won’t regret the time sat on the edge of your seat, watching the Owl and the Pussycat dance by the light of the moon.
Chloe Evans is a 1st year student of English and Creative Writing. If you want to read more of her work and follow her blog, you can do that here: http://grapeinacape.tumblr.com