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Bank On It

Theatre-Rites' inventive interactive promenade production, part of the Barbican Beyond season, is brilliantly designed and "spreads nothing but joy and delight"

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
© Patrick Baldwin

Bank On It, presented by Theatre-Rites in a community centre in Hackney as part of the Beyond Barbican season, is a 75-minute interactive promenade show for children (aged five years and upwards) of uncommon beauty, poetry and low-tech, detailed invention.

Part quest, part installation, part audience participation and part pure theatre – it's got almost everything – the show never bullies or cajoles like some of its grown-up confrères (did I say Punchdrunk?), and takes us literally inside the financial system with wit and surprise.

The Rose Lipman is a seemingly featureless venue with hidden treasures; in the first place, this is our money, as the cast assembles trying to make withdrawals from a cash machine. No go. Cards are swallowed. The bank is closed. A fat-faced bank manager appears in the machine's screen, telling us to go away, then dashes off inside.

We follow him, and the actors, into a downstairs office full of files and cabinets, where flouted customer service conditions are read out and the actors perform a hilarious patter song about fiscal compact and quantitive easing – so much gobbledegook for kids, and us – drawing great strips of nonsense lyrics out of a copy of the Financial Times.

Carole Walton and Simon Palmer
© Patrick Baldwin
After an interview with a robot who keeps the personal files, and a visit to a puppet regulator mixing up the in and out columns, we depart through a huge steel safe into the vaults. And here everything changes: no sign of dosh, but an Aladdin's cave of bell jars and exhortations to stop polluting the ocean, save electricity (and bees, and trees), in small, dark supervised compartments where children can draw and create.

What's going on? Banks have become welcoming and friendly places. But what about our money? Hard-nosed financiers may pooh-pooh this sentimental claptrap about the environment and value of solar panels, but children won't, nor will softies like you and me who would rather be at peace with the world than worry about a mortgage.

It's all so beautifully done that you only question the sleight-of-hand logic of it all, anyway, when you come out. And by then you've sat in yet another space, a round one, with comfy benches, for a lovely light show, and cast pennies in a water fountain – no chocolate fountain here; this is the aesthetic opposite of Willy Wonka's fantastic factory – and then filed out to write wishes on a postcard.

My postcard requested peace in the Middle East and a doubled interest rate on bank savings of over £100. And most of the children's I saw were for something similar; and a new teddy bear. Sue Buckmaster's production, brilliantly designed by Hannah Clark, lifts all financial gloom and spreads nothing but joy and delight.