CAMPO's last piece made with children, Before Your Very Eyes, pushed its young protagonists into fast forward, looking at age through the viewfinder of youth. Returning to LIFT with Next Day, this time CAMPO are more interested in how children see the immediate world around them – and how that world is refracted through their playful imaginations.
Paris-based director Philippe Quesne has worked with the young performers, all aged between 8 and 11, to construct a colourful playground of a set for their games and inventions. Foam building blocks allow worlds to be constructed and destroyed in moments, as the children build tottering, implausible structures only to knock them down again. Musical instruments are gathered in one corner, allowing the talented youngsters to create their own soundtrack to the chaotic action, while a photo backdrop of tower blocks acts as a reminder of the drab world from which imagination takes flight.
The show itself is as loosely structured as the child's play it evokes, moving swiftly from one game or theme to the next. Its connecting strand is that of superheroes, as the children don masks and capes to vanquish alien attackers, save people from the rubble of toppled buildings and – in a surreal illustration of how consumerism seeps into imagination – shoot television commercials. It's all gleefully anarchic and infectiously fun, especially when the adults in the audience briefly get to join in with the play.
"There is a certain, intriguing discomfort involved in sitting in the audience"
As with CAMPO's previous work with children, and the work that their Belgian colleagues Ontroerend Goed have done with teenagers, there is a certain, intriguing discomfort involved in sitting in the audience. The usual viewing dynamics of the stage are disrupted by training our adult gaze on this group of children, who in turn stare back. Surely there's something a little uneasy about all of this? The piece also begs the question of how possible it really is to guilelessly stage childhood and how light or heavy the hand of Quesne has been in shaping the material.
Meanwhile the title, hovering above the stage throughout in neon yellow letters, is both a premonition and a promise. What kind of world do these children stand to inherit in the next day, and the next and the next? In one sequence, both joking and grimly serious at once, a series of problems that our "superheroes" have to deal with are projected on the back screen: nuclear war, pandemic, environmental disaster – the list goes on. And yet, somehow the playful manipulation of the stage gestures towards a fragile kind of hope in a generation who might still be able to imagine a different, better world.
Next Day runs at the Unicorn Theatre until 28 June.