Bumper Blyton features a bumper cast of improv experts who give assured performances throughout, but too many bells and whistles lead to a muddled production. With a wide variety of winning moments, the audience certainly came away smiling; from Amy Cooke-Hodgson’s meta fixation on plot to Rhiannon Vivian’s pitch-perfect moments of surrealism (“Look, girls, I’ve knitted us a future!”), it’s clear that the audience is in safe hands, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that the cast’s astounding talents are obscured by the format.
Many appealing qualities are dragged down by overcomplications and overproduction
Before the audience even enters the room, it’s clear that Bumper Blyton does things a little differently. For one thing, suggestions are taken in the form of drawings. These drawings are then affixed to a particular side of one of many ‘story dice’. These dice are then handed out among the audience, who are instructed to hurl them towards poor Sally Hodgkiss, who stands with a wicker basket at the front of the room. If this sounds completely and utterly mad, that’s because it is. Be warned: sit at the front and be in danger of a cube in the head. But that’s not the end of it. The audience is asked for a particularly Enid Blyton-esque word—in this case ‘smock’—and the cast arrive on stage one by one, each repeating a word, with other members of the cast attempting to shuffle them into the correct order, and then also repeating a word, until the title of the adventure is assembled. Not only was the title quite generic in the end (‘The Gang Wearing Smocks, Hurray!’), but the amount of time it required didn’t seem to pay off. Unfortunately this sets the tone for a show whose many appealing qualities are dragged down by overcomplications and overproduction.
Most of the humour in the show comes from the deployment of ridiculously RP accents and innuendo. Some of this innuendo is expertly used, mostly by Cooke-Hodgson, such as a memorable exchange at a Weightwatchers group (“I’m Roger Ham-Sandwich.” “Ah, we haven’t had a roger here in some time.”); others times distinctly less so (“Losing weight is mostly about putting less in your mouth.”). Bumper Blyton certainly operates within an interesting, and older than average, demographic, who responded warmly to these doubles-entendres, but it seemed to become something of a crutch in the more directionless scenes.
One of the more bizarre aspects of the show was its music. The cast were ably accompanied by a live pianist, but when the performers first burst out into song it came as a distinct surprise. While all of the cast are capable singers, with harmonies integrated well, the songs seem unnecessary and oddly melancholic compared to the tone of the dialogue. The songs were short and few, and added little.
It’s worth mentioning that the show in this case featured a wonderful and underappreciated mime by Vivian of catching and releasing a butterfly in the background of a scene, one of many examples of the cast’s sheer immersion and ease of performance, and the laughs flow freely with declarations that “calories are just lightweight thoughts” and through Hodgkiss’ forthright delivery. But between the forced musical choices and odd format, the improvised adventure—like the songs—feels more like a ditty.