‘I see life as basically tragic and futile and the only thing that matters in life is making little jokes,’ wrote Edward Lear, a Victorian best known for his nonsense poetry and limericks. Exploring this interesting connection of the very light and the very dark in Lear’s poetry and life, Chatterbox Productions has created Little Jokes.
The theatrical Nonsense World felt strangely bare and empty
Little Jokes focuses on a sad little boy named Anthony, who disappears into Edward Lear’s Nonsense World to avoid dealing with his own pain and loss. In this make-believe place, he meets the ‘real’ Edward Lear, who shows Anthony how to make use of his powerful imagination. Lear eventually convinces Anthony to allow him to take his place in the real world for a visit whilst Anthony looks after Nonsense World. The adventure teaches both characters some important life lessons on how to deal with pain and disappointment.
There is much to enjoy in this sweet production. An accordion playing in pre-show offers a charming, bygone atmosphere. The stage is set simply with three white sheets hung at the back of the stage and effectively used for shadow theatre and puppetry. The small cast is dressed casually in tights and hooded jumpers, with the exception of Lear, dressed in a tuxedo. The actors work well together and recite Lear’s poetry with enthusiasm. Lear’s interaction with the real, non-Victorian world and its inhabitants also provide many amusing moments.
Unfortunately, however, Lear’s Nonsense World lacks magic. Whilst the play takes the view that imagination can take us anywhere and that what one sees with the eyes doesn’t limit what can be conjured in the mind, the theatrical Nonsense World felt strangely bare and empty. Whereas the real world felt vivid, the sections set in Nonsense World dragged. The play also seemed oddly pitched. With so much talk and exploration of Lear’s very adult disappointments with his life, his plotline often felt too mature for children. Conversely, the language and messages of the story felt a little young for an adult audience.
Nevertheless, Little Jokes is an enjoyable introduction to Lear and his poetry; a pleasant way to start the afternoon.