Jafar Iqbal attends The Flying Bedroom, a bilingual play about childhood anxieties which he finds to feel somewhat incomplete, though not without its merits.
Elinor is anxious about her first day of school. She doesn’t know anything about rocket science, and she’s scared she’ll get bullied by the bigger girls. When her bedroom magically starts flying at night, the young girl heads off on an adventure that forces her to confront those fears.
It’s heartening to see two Welsh plays exploring the issue of anxiety amongst children (the other being Taking Flight’s You’ve Got Dragons), but Little Light’s approach to this stage adaptation doesn’t quite reach its potential. Author Heather Dyer has tapped into a poignant subject but directors Lisa and Rob Spaull end up overcomplicating something that is already difficult to express.
A big part of that is the way in which the story has been pared down. Inevitable for a stage production, yes, but dialogue exchanges are so brief that the subject matter loses its significance. Dance sequences are very well choreographed and performed, as should be expected from a dance theatre company, but they dilute Dyer’s narrative.
The use of digital effects also brings pros and cons with it. Using 3D special effects for the backdrop is an innovative move, and not something seen often in children’s theatre. Anything that freshens up contemporary theatre can only be applauded. Sadly, the execution isn’t there. While the use of the effects is innovative, the effects themselves are extremely outdated and make the show feel very amateurish. We live in an age where children – even young children – are exposed to technology and digital effects of the highest quality. Offering outdated visual effects to such a discerning audience is a risky endeavour, and perhaps a shortsighted one here.
The show is certainly not without merit, though. Angharad Jones is well-cast as Elinor, nailing the innocence and curiosity of the character with wide-eyed facials and an understated physical performance. Cat Ryan does a solid job as a multitude of bizarre supporting characters, but her own energy doesn’t quite match that of the people she’s playing. There’s a comfort in her dancing that just isn’t there in the acting, and that ends up dampening the chemistry between the two actors.
Their use of bilingualism is a very smart move, though. Jones flits back and forth between Welsh and English without confusing the young audience, while her exchanges with Ryan are also bilingual. For one actor to talk in English and the other to respond in Welsh, without drawing attention to it, is an exceptional way of normalising it. Any risk of that complicating matters any further are quashed thanks to the writer’s astute script.
This is the second run-around for The Flying Bedroom, and Little Light have highlighted the improvements made in the technical aspects of the show. While things may certainly have moved forward, it still feels like a work in progress. Regardless of the quality of the digital effects or the strength of the performances, The Flying Bedroom should leave children with a better understanding of anxiety and facing fears. The message is in there, and the show has the potential to be something very special, but there’s perhaps more work to be done. The adventure is far from over.
The Flying Bedroom is currently on tour – you can find out more about where too find it here.
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Jafar Iqbal is a regular contributor to Wales Arts Review.