Thingummy Bob

There’s a wonderful clarity to Linda McLean’s short play Thingummy Bob, a firm favourite with Scotland’s leading theatre company for people with learning disabilities, Lung Ha Theatre Company. It tells a straightforward story with neither writerly fuss nor theatrical affectation. Nevertheless, you should never confuse simple for simplistic; it’s a production which touches on some pretty serious issues about our lives, memories and individuality, but does so with charm, humour and a lightness of touch.

A remarkably focused and entertaining production which lightly touches on heavy themes, and leaves little confusion in its wake.

It’s also quite honest about what’s happening, with Gavin Yule introducing the cast (and himself) while succinctly explaining the characters that they’ll be playing. When it comes to numbers, Kenneth Ainslie ably meets the challenge of playing not just a male nurse, but also a female neighbour, an Elvis-loving policeman and an invisible dog. That said, Yule clearly and succinctly distinguishes between Lesley—the titular Bob’s wheelchair-using nephew in Australia—and a surprisingly articulate and self-aware CCTV system called Binox, which is supposedly keeping an intelligent eye on the comings and goings at Bob’s residential care home.

The heart of this show, however, is in the capable hands of experienced Lung Ha performers John Edgar as Bob, and Emma McCaffrey as Gemma, a young woman who has known Bob all her life and is fearful of losing him to dementia. She clings to the hope that Bob still has some superpower, but the problem is that neither she nor anyone else knows what it might be. Bob, meantime, has lost something; he can’t remember what this “Thingummy” is, but he knows two things—that finding it will make him happy, and it’s not where he is now.

So, accompanied by the theme to the film The Great Escape, Bob makes his way back to his old home, in search of the “Thingummy”. Desperately worried, Gemma and her mate Cap try to do the same thing, and it’s the latter half of the play which explores what happens next. It would be a massive spoiler to suggest whether or not Bob finds his Thingummy, so let’s instead give special mention to Mark Howie, Lung Ha’s resident funny man, whose character may have a limited vocabulary—for the most part, just “Aye!”—but lands each word with comedic impact.

Lung Ha’s Artistic Director Maria Oller once again directs her cast with both an understanding of McLean’s characters and the abilities of her cast, encouraging Karen Tennant to design a startlingly impressive white and grey set which is necessarily wheelchair accessible. Along with Philip Pinksky’s distinctive musical score, the result is a remarkably focused and entertaining production which lightly touches on heavy themes, and leaves little confusion in its wake. Other theatre productions take note!

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

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The Blurb

Bob, an ageing disabled man in a care home, has lost something important—but can’t remember what it is. Convinced that only by escaping will he be able to find the parts of him that are missing, he enlists the help of two young friends.

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