FringeReview UK 2018
This is one of the three shorts by different writers mounted by Orange Tree – again in association with Paines Plough and Theatr Clwyd, involving the same three actors – Katie Elin-Salt, Sally Messham and Hasan Dixon in a virtuoso display of registers and styles. Niftily directed by Dominic Grieve, with Peter Small’s lighting creating a set through miraculous kaleidoscopes, black-outs, red-ins and filters, it’s all you need. On occasion – when bleak jangles or riotous pop music are invoked – the sound’s completed by Dominic Kennedy. They can be seen in a single day. Till March 3rd.
It’d be a mistake to see this as purely a family play. Despite being slotted into a prime theatre time on a day of three linked productions, audience numbers were down drastically. Yet Sarah McDonald-Hughes’ How To Be a Kid enchants all ages and leaves abiding questions of just how to be an adult.
It’s one of the three shorts by different writers mounted by Orange Tree – again in association with Paines Plough and Theatr Clwyd, involving the same three actors – Katie Elin-Salt, Sally Messham and Hasan Dixon in a virtuoso display of registers and styles. Niftily directed by Dominic Grieve, with Peter Small’s lighting creating a set through miraculous kaleidoscopes, black-outs, red-ins and filters, it’s all you need. Here the lighting’s simple and unthreatening but atmospheric. There’s excellent moments at night, and sparkling moments on a truant ride in a car named Vera. On occasion – when bleak jangles or riotous pop music are invoked – the sound’s completed by Dominic Kennedy. It’s Taylor Swift Messham and Elin-Salt dance infectiously to as we start, an exhilarating moment. All three plays can be seen in a single day. It’s worth it to see how deliriously three actors inhabit so many roles.
McDonald-Hughes certainly writes for a virtuosic bunch of adult kids, and Elin-Salt, gamine in the lead role of twelve-year-old Molly, flourishes in a disinhibited role – close in some ways to Out of Love which she’s also playing. This play forms an attractive addenda to that growing-up piece, but more, it concentrates the protagonists. Both Dixon mainly playing Molly’s ‘extremely, extremely annoying’ six-year-old-brother Joey, and Messham delighting as best friend Taylor triangulate in a heart-warming magic.
Messham’s sheer energy and apparition as Mum, Nan and others, as well as Taylor has her cavort in a kind of mainly child-like adult circling around the adult-acting child of Elin-Salt. After all Molly’s already learned to drive. Elin-Salt’s mix of earnest child and wildly gleeful adventurer is infectious: she manages to suggest a twelve-year old child effortlessly. Dixon’s Joey rushes about interacting with audience members like a large Labrador. It’s Messham who in a tour-de-force carries all the adult registers, the tragedies of loss, bereavement, depression, concern and the language of fraught authority.
Mum’s had a breakdown after her mother – Nan – has died, affectingly conveyed by Messham as she later reverts to Nan’s distinctive accent, and through to Taylor. McDonald-Hughes lightly etches the depression Mum falls into, the stasis, Molly’s attempt to take over cooking, the smashing of a beloved plate, and the social services’ intervention. Michelle (Messham again, all concerned furrows) breaks it to Molly that her mother has to be admitted to hospital. Adults can register quite how serious this plot-point is, or should be. Whilst Joey can stay with his father and his new family (we learn not very happily) there’s nothing for it but to relocate Molly seventy miles away at Riverside.
But there she meets the wild, wise and true friend Taylor. OK, so she loves Taylor Swift too but she really is called Taylor. Taylor though is there as a foster placement fell through. She’s from a different background, for more broken by illness in part, and really has forgotten perhaps to be a kid at all. She tells Molly how to create a red box in your head, and then think what to put in, and eventually, how to leave it altogether. Her magical thinking works.
Molly’s acclimatising, quite quickly: her loyalties shift. She hides from her former best friend Abi at school the fact that she’s bussing in from so far, and indeed her sense of home and homelessness easily morphs, as it does in childhood. At a key moment Molly decides to flee in her Nan’s old car Vera, which she can in fact drive. ‘It’s actually really easy’ and her command of gears suggests it really is. The only problem is her brother’s in the back and won’t get out. So on a fantastic voyage back to her new home of Riverside, she takes him with her, via a drive-by MacDonald’s via a free voucher that just drifted into their car, and a midnight swim breaking into the swimming baths. It’s as fantastical as that.
‘How did you even get here? .. Who the frig’s Vera?.. You’re off your head mate!’ There’s a progression of sanity and rationalisation in Taylor: Molly in a supremely adult action – driving and navigating a car for seventy miles – has learned how to be a kid, realize her dreams.
Taylor though is a realist, though heartened at Molly’s keeping her promise and that of future friendship. The epilogue is remarkable, everything spools us back and we’re treated to a miraculous healing. It’s a little dusted over, and I’m not entirely convinced on the neat roll-up in this delightful fifty minutes. Perhaps a few more nuggets of depression and a harder-earned denouement would make this perfect. As it is, it’s more than an enchanting diversion and does ask just how quickly we need to grow up, even when we have.