Fifteen years after his daughter Sophie (a nicely mischievous Hester Bond) vanished a lonely Professor (Jack Cole) re-activates his mechanical servants to continue his search. Instead of Sophie they find a boy and, upon discovering he lacks a heart, the Professor manufactures one from a clock. The ramshackle family grow fond of Clockheart Boy (Michael Bryher who also directs) but will the robot the professor made as a substitute for his lost child share this affection?
Dumbshow is an enthusiastic company, in which the members of the cast also direct, design the set, stage-manage and contribute to Sam Gayton’s writing of the play. Although aimed at children aged six years and upwards the show is surprisingly reflective and tackles themes (such as the need for a child to eventually leave home) that may be more mature than the target audience can comfortably accept. Director Michael Bryher sets a reflective tone for the play that, again, might suit the themes better than the audience.
The gentle keyboard music, written and played live by Rollo Clarke, maintains this melancholic mood but at times you wish he would pick up the pace and offer a few dramatic chords to add a little suspense.
But if the play overall could stand some tweaking the individual elements are wonderful. Hester Bond’s design gives us a bright anarchic household of eccentric but endearing characters such as Lotte Allan’s gawky yet charmingly love struck Peepers. Gayton and Bryher cram so much into the show that you are bound to find something to enjoy. The youngsters are delighted by the slapstick kitchen routine put on by Bryher and Nicola Cutler and the adults can have a sly smile at the latter’s Jamie Oliver impression.
Ambitiously there is also a story within the story told using shadow play techniques. Aware that children respond well to things with which they are already familiar the cast add a touch of zany goofing around in the style of children’s TV shows. Along with the general air of regret that features in the production this gives the sense of a household that has learned, in an admittedly odd way, to cope with loss. The only style the company take trouble to avoid is panto –‘Don’t be facetious’ is the response to the cry of ‘ It’s behind you!’
Clockheart Boy is a refreshing change of pace from the bland material that is usually offered to young theatregoers and such a change is always welcome.