Childhood nostalgia is a tricky emotion to incite – let alone to attempt in no more than forty-five minutes using five actors and a single, rotating set piece. But Theatre Royal Bath Young People's Theatre are more than up to the challenge. The company’s short play The Imaginaries tells the story of Casper, Bobo Mary, and Gloki – the names are deserving of a double-take and raised eyebrow but don’t worry, there’s beautifully understated reasoning behind their uniqueness – three children trapped in a mysterious world with nothing but monsters, misery and a million questions to keep them company. They have one thing in common - each of them has lost a friend. A best friend. A friend they’d do anything to get back to.
It’s an intriguing, if simplistic, set-up that brings to mind a tired parent’s bedtime story more than anything else.
It’s an intriguing, if simplistic, set-up that brings to mind a tired parent’s bedtime story more than anything else – but writer Gemma Dunnell more than makes up for this initial lack of originality with a mid-act twist that draws the ‘ahhhs’ from your throat and tears from your eyes with effortless ease. To spoil the details would be to spoil the entire show, but let’s just say it’s a tremendously simple yet utterly inspired concept – the sort of fairy tale-esque idea suited to childhood classics like Peter Pan – and the uplifting nature of the play’s final few scenes is sure to leave asmile on your face.
Unfortunately, the events leading up to this revelation suffer from some slight pacing issues and a repetitive feel. The script’s endless arguments seem to run in circles, told through dialogue that feels redundant more than a few times. Perhaps writing in a few more individual quirks to the characters’ speech patterns and vocabulary choices might have helped conversations find their feet better. Meanwhile, the play’s stagnant staging often leaves Casper and his friends milling around in the half-gloom of their mysterious world like lost children on their first day of school. Perhaps livelier direction from Oli Pearce-Taylor and Mae-Louise Hawkins might have breathed more life into these scenes.
That being said, the vitality of leading actor Conor Cook, in the role of Casper, is impossible not to enjoy. Cook lights up the stage with a raw, open, honest sincerity –balanced against just the right amount of vulnerability – that never fails to engage. You instantly warm to a performance that’s every bit as fresh and fervent as any loyal childhood friend should be.
Overall, The Imaginaries certainly has plenty to offer in terms of fresh performance talent and an ingenious narrative concept. Dunnell’s script tells a story that truly is one-of-a-kind, despite its occasionally tedious manner of telling it. Casper, Bobo Mary and Gloki learn a lesson that is both poignant and relatable in equal amounts. It’s something that every one of us has gone through at some point during our childhoods – and now it’s their turn. The Imaginaries might bore you a little but it will touch you a whole lot.