REVIEW (From a distance): The Great Big Story Mix Up (Roustabout Theatre), Oxford Playhouse Online

Here at the Family Stage we love a two show day. And the great thing about online theatre is that it’s easy to do a digital two show day without having to worry about travelling between venues. All you need is an internet enabled device, a plentiful supply of snacks and, of course, a theatre den! So on Saturday, snacks at the ready, we snuggled up in the munchkins’ latest blanket creation for an afternoon of improvised family theatre, beginning with The Great Big Story Mix Up.

Several multi-coloured blankets pegged together over a sofa to create a den

The Great Big Story Mix Up is a highly interactive, improvised family
show which puts children’s imaginations at the heart of the action in a completely original way. It was originally designed to be performed on stage, with the company using suggestions, interruptions, and wild ideas from its young audience to create never-before-seen fairy tales. The new online version takes the nonsense to a completely different dimension through the addition of animated children’s drawings. It’s a great chance for children to take on almost every role in theatre, including set designers who see their artwork come to life before their eyes and musical directors who get to decide when it’s song time.

The three performers (Shae Rooke, Toby Hulse and Robin Hemmings) are together on stage and play to a single camera which is then magically beamed to Zoom by what we are reliably informed involves a lot of cables and the super skills of a duo of tech wizards, to whom we were briefly introduced at the start of the show. After a good, old-fashioned sing-song with a healthy dose of audience participation, it was time for us to pick the props, cast the characters and send the unprepared performers off into a mystery land created by crayon. As ever, Quaver made it her mission to be selected for every single piece of audience participation by waving her arms around like a loony and getting up close and personal with Mummy’s computer camera. But the Roustabout team were scrupulously fair and made sure that everybody got a chance to get involved with the action.

Trailer – The Great Big Story Mix Up

The munchkins ended up in charge of the big spinning wheel that selected the characters and also got to come up with one character all by themselves. With a world of opportunities open to them they decided to keep things relatively traditional and went for Belle from Beauty and the Beast. And so it was up to the brave Roustabout trio to construct a tale that featured Belle (played in the style of Poirot by Robin Hemmings), a wizard (Shae Rooke) and Humpty Dumpty (initially played by Toby Hulse and subsequently by Robin Hemmings in the style of Boris Johnson) utilising props including Santa’s beard and a pair of Batman boxers. And as if this wasn’t bonkers enough already, one lucky household could require them to stop in their tracks and burst into spontaneous song three times during the show, keeping them very much on their twinkle toes.

Normally we wouldn’t tell you the entire plot of a show, but since neither we nor the performers know what will happen in future shows, we’re going to do just that!…..Belle (a master of three different types of martial art, only two of which (s)he could remember at any given time) battled against the Wizard (a master of magic with a talent for rhyme but a complete inability to get anywhere on time) as headed out on a competitive quest to the Caribbean (via the Arctic) to capture Humpty Dumpty and present him (in exchange for a big bag of money) to the King of Candyland, who needed to replenish his supply of candy fried eggs.

After various encounters with a range of additional characters, they both made it to Barbados where they tracked down the elusive egg thanks to the distinctive smell of his farts. (This part was entirely the construction of the onstage trio and absolutely nothing at all to do with the watching children!) The Wizard’s spells and Belle’s martial arts prowess all but forgotten, the winner of the duel was determined by a game of rock, paper, scissors and soon poor old Humpty was being rolled back to Candyland by the Wizard. But did the King get his candy? No. Not only did Humpty fail to crack under pressure but the King got more than he bargained for when he tried to remove Humpty’s protective pants. And that sounds much worse when written down than it looked on stage….

Filled with songs, stories and spur of the moment silliness, The Great Big Story Mix Up is a great show which takes the deliberately daft and low-tech world of improvised theatre and enhances it with clever use of technology to create a real theatre experience in your home. Not only is it fantastic fun for all the family but it’s different every time, so you can even watch more than once! And if you fancy venturing out of the house, there are also opportunities to watch the Roustabout team do their thing at a venue near you, as the show is also heading on a socially distanced in-person tour to theatres, schools and arts centres. Head to the Roustabout Website for more details and tour dates.

The Great Big Story Mix-Up played online at the Oxford Playhouse from 24 to 28 October 2020. We received complimentary tickets to the performance on 24 October in return for a review.

Age rating: 3+