Sporadical (3 stars)

This article is from 2009


Sea shanties and your long-lost auntie

You thought your family reunions were bad? They've got nothing on the Wellesferry's. Except that it turns out you are part of the extended Wellesferry clan, which is made clear in this interactive musical with name badges all round, enthusiastic greetings from the performers (sorry, 'relatives') and the expectation of participation (nothing too painful).

The Wellesferrys gather annually to recount the meeting of the Welles and Ferry families, a tale that goes back over 200 hundred years and involves drowned prostitutes, mermaid ghosts, a dominant misery gene and a lot of cardboard props. Billed as an 'epic folk opera' your ancestry is narrated via gypsy, sea shanty and operatic numbers mixed with puppetry, drama, genre jiggery-pokery and not a little pantomime.

The action takes place over several small stages, and in and around the audience. Whether it's a boat's rocky collision conjured out of cardboard or a drowning scene complete with bubbles from the audience, it's very much in keeping with the Forest's lo-fi vibe. A particular moment of genius is the cracking in two of a massive wine glass (cardboard again) when one large-lunged character strains her diaphragm with a sustained high note (ironically the production's weak spot is the quality of some of the singing).

Galloping along creating their own musical accompaniment, the performers have fun with conventions, and while an explanation of dramatic irony may be pat, their playful inventiveness keeps the unscripted feel of a mildly psychotic family gathering. The melding of the petulant younger sibling role with that of foot-stamping percussionist is a particularly good moment of synergy.

Little Bulb Theatre are the Forest Fringe's resident company this Festival, so the production will change as it's work-shopped over the two-week run. At the time of writing it's like The Royal Tenenbaums meets Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with a hula girl thrown in and hopefully future generations won't take it too far from its roots.

Forest Café, www.forestfringe.co.uk, until 29 Aug, 9pm, free.