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Review Round-up: Duckie Sing Lullabies to Critics

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Performance collective Duckie present Lullaby at the Barbican's Pit from 24 June (staggered press nights to 29 June) to 24 July 2011. An immersive experience for audiences of 50 people per night it gently performs songs, storytelling and bedtime comforts such as hot chocolate and brandy nightcaps.

Aiming to lull audience members into seven hours of blissful sleep, Lullaby is performed by H Plewis, Harriet Plewis, Matthew Robins and Tim Spooner with direction by Mark Whitelaw and design by Laura Hopkins.

It was a mixed reaction to what may well be London's first critical sleep-over.

Terri Paddock

"Once all audience members are tucked in to their singles, doubles or triple, the winding of music boxes signals the start of the performance ... The last thing I remember, some time after midnight, was a cello and an interplanetary lecture. Hours later, I woke at 7.30am - the first time I haven't risen at least three times in the night in months - to find a few little surprises hatched centre-stage and eggs being served in the breakfast room ... It won't be everyone's cup of cultural cocoa, but, at just £42 with breakfast, beverages and earplugs included, it's cheaper than a hotel - and far, far cheaper than the insomnia doctor I consulted last year ... An hour after returning to the office from my Barbican stay and feeling far more refreshed than usual - let me raise a pillow and a happy yawn to the Duckie team ... I did indeed have a good night's sleep and am very grateful."

Libby Purves
The Times

"I'm tucked up in bed deep under the City of London, watching four performers in ropey octopus costumes revolving solemnly and singing 'Join our little family, as we circle in the sea'. I am not alone. There are 50 of us... a great tiered amphitheatre of cosiness around a little stage ... Kindly figures in striped pyjamas offered nightcaps and took our day clothes away ... The lights are dim, the music is tinkling ... I find it soothing. Tribal, even: huddled warm round a light source, being sung to and told stories. The material, created by the four performers and directed by Mark Whitelaw, tends to the circular, the hypnotic, the reassuring, the drifting — damn, there I go again. After the interval, Matthew Robins' music becomes even more soporific, with a story about a tiger who fell in love with the Moon and a lecture on Pythagorean cosmology. The reveille is novel, gentle, gradual, endearing. Organic, even. My lips are sealed."

Sarah Hemming
Financial Times

"The last thing a theatre company usually wants is to send the audience to sleep. But that is exactly the effect sought by Duckie in their latest show … It is an extraordinary event. As an audience member, you turn up at bedtime and are greeted by kindly Barbican staff in striped pyjamas offering cocoa … There is a surreal cabaret of magic tricks, nursery songs, story readings and dancing creatures... a deliberately low-key collection of dreamy melodies, hypnotic light projections, and stories about the music of the spheres, winding down to an ethereal lullaby and readings that gradually disintegrate in sense. Not easy to review: after all, the more successful the show, the less you should see. The first half of the evening is a little too whimsical. But the second half is fascinating ... As theatre, it upends expectations ... And there is something very touching about an event so bent on caring for its audience. To my surprise, despite the great heat and one operatic snorer, I did eventually nod off, to be woken by the most endearing dawn chorus. Stepping out into bright sunlight and the commuter rush, I felt as though I had been in another world."

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

"It seems self-defeating to create a show that aims to put theatregoers to sleep. Yet in Lullaby the collective known as Duckie aspire to do just that, using songs, stories and whimsical visuals. An audience of up to 50 spends the night in the Barbican Pit ... For the price of a modest bed-and-breakfast, you get a Central London sleepover with a hypnotic side order of lectures and projections. The tone, initially winsome, drifts towards the surreal ... The performers are sensitive, but there's an air of quaint amateurism, and the production seems exaggeratedly naive and under-rehearsed. The novel charm of being serenaded by an octopus can't obscure the fact that the music and storytelling are twee ... It can feel like an exercise in sleep deprivation ... The entertainment is undeniably soothing. But once it stops, the atmosphere becomes much less soporific. Ideal fare for masochists, I'd say, and for anyone who's not yet had enough of touring the boundary between wakefulness and somnolence."

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph

"Normally when you find yourself dreading something for weeks it turns out to be not nearly as bad as you expected. The twist with Lullaby at the Barbican... is that it actually proved even worse than I imagined ... The show, which was meant to lull the 50-strong audience... into blissful slumbers with stories and song was pathetic ... There were also some pathetic conjuring tricks … a long lecture on the Pythagorean theory ... The producer had told me that if I wasn't lulled into sleep (by) 1am, Duckie would have failed in its task. I stayed awake. At about 2am, I drifted off but that was when a dire night became downright humiliating. The woman lying in the bed next to me woke me up and told me I was snoring … She said she was wearing the ear plugs and was still being kept awake by my snores. I felt guilty and exhausted and drifted off and she woke me a third time. I tried to stay awake but eventually fell back into swinish slumber … I've spent worse nights - but not many”


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