Brighton Fringe 2018
Do you have an imaginary friend? A little piece of mischief only you can see?
Sophia’s imaginary friend is called Mr. Whatsit. No matter where Sophia finds herself living, he’s always there with a new joke to tell and a new game to play. But when Sophia moves into her new foster home, Mr Whatsit finds himself unimagined! Now Sophia has a new imaginary friend – the glamourous, grown-up Margo. Can Mr. Whatsit’s childish playfulness keep him from being unimagined for good? And with her imaginary friends competing against each other, will Sophia manage to find her forever home?
PaddleBoat Theatre Company present an interactive make-believe tale where the real and imaginary collide, and friends are never far away.
The difference between ages 3 and 8 is massive so discovering a piece of theatre which appeals to pre-k audiences as well as school age children, as well as adults feels a bit like finding the holy grail of family programming. This is the magic of Margo & Mr. Whatsit, combining interactive play, delightful imagery, a creative, multi-faceted set designed for discovery, and a thoughtful, compelling, and emotionally complicated narrative, Margo & Mr. Whatsit tackles the very grown up issues of foster care, adoption, childhood acting out, and the painful letting go of childhood imaginary friends as a part of growing up, in an engaging, age appropriate journey of the imagination.
Sophia and her imaginary friend Mr. Whatsit are inseparable, playing a game of hide and seek and tickle monster as the audience enters the theatre to be witness to the funeral of Mr. Whatsit and the starting transition of young Sophia to her forever home with the aid of the newly arrived invisible maven Margo. As Margo and Mr. Whatsit vie for the attention of Sophia we discover that this latest is Sophia’s fifth home and that her attachment to Mr. Whatsit and the never unpacked contents of her rucksack are due in part to her trust issues with previous homes, each having a flaw and reason for her removal.
Putting aside for a moment the pedantic discussion of the educational and social value of the show, it is just plain fun. Highly imaginative, well scripted, performed with grace, energy, and devoid of any patronizing overtones, Margo & Mr. Whatsit is family friendly entertainment at its finest. Performed with heart and humor, Sophia is the quintessential 8 going on 81/2 year old, and Mr. Whatsit is the best friend we all long to have. Margo has overtones of a modern day Mary Poppins but whose mission isn’t to save Mr. Banks but rather to find Sophia’s forever Mr. Banks. The company has provided plenty of imagination inspiring moments for the wee ones who may not understand the larger context of the show but will none the less thrill to Sophia’s interactive, other-worldly adventures. This is truly a marvel of family fun which a great big heart at center.
Paddleboat Theatre has a clearly well-developed understanding of children’s developmental stages, tackling complex issues such of Sophia’s compulsive lying and lashing out with a gentle but intelligent narrative which breeds empathy and understanding not only of the what, but of the why, and the how to change, but unlike many other children’s programs about reform and redemption, Sophia isn’t asked to be perfect, just to be better.
There is much to recommend this production from the wonderful, imaginative bedroom set with surprises in every drawer, which transports Sophia to foreign lands, undersea adventures, and even outer space, but also the thoughtful storytelling which makes the world of the foster care child accessible, even tackling the many defense mechanisms and anxieties experienced by our young heroine. I was reminded of the 80s movie Drop Dead Fred, about overcoming childhood abuse with the help of her imaginary friend, who represented all the coping mechanisms, one of my favorite movies as an adult. Unlike the ill-fated 80s film which was mistakenly billed as a kid’s movie, Margo & Mr. Whatsit knows well their target audience and hits all the right emotional notes, and this reviewer found herself repeatedly wiping a sole tear from her eye watching Sophia struggle to cope in a world in which she neither felt secure nor understood, and as she shared her imaginary friends with other children in search of a forever home. I do believe this production to be practically perfect in every way.