Rubbish is on tour, playing at London’s Southbank Centre until Monday 21 April
Grimy whimsy. Or whimsical grime. That’s what you get when you bring together four latex-clad, gangly urchins in a rubbish dump; let them delve into bin bags for buried treasure and household artefacts; and see what sort of creatures they unearth from amidst the junk.
Given that my son and I started to clean up a local, litter-strewn eyesore a few days ago, our invitation to see Theatre-Rites‘ production, Rubbish, at the Southbank Centre felt decidedly appropriate. And the message running through the performance was one I’ve been trying to tell myself over the last year or so: make sure you check out what’s hidden in the junk. You might just find something beautiful.
Shiny doubloons were probably the most prosaic of the items discovered in this ominous pile of bin bags in Queen Elizabeth Hall. A whole menagerie of beasts and a post-apocalyptical cityscape all make an appearance, highlighted dramatically through the gloaming by impeccable lighting.
The performance has elements of a coreographed mime show, and the puppets (Theatre-Rites’ specialism) are cleverly contrived so that you have to look twice to see past the characters and onto their components. Without wanting to give too much away about who or what is going to spring out of the bins, the puppet creations are cute, comedic and infused with a trace of pathos. And, they are all fashioned from familiar objects out of a household bin. If you are a fan of Jeunet’s 2009 film Micmacs, whose quirky characters lived in a dump and were also fond of recycling, you’re likely to find Rubbish utterly charming.
For children in the show’s age range (5 and upwards), Rubbish may have been a touch long at 75 minutes. The real magic began when the puppets began to emerge; the sequences before this, where the excavators roamed around, squirting the trash and each other with disinfecting solution, and establishing house rules for their new grimy commune, could have been cut down substantially.
But the spooky score by Jessica Dannheiser helped carry the young audience through to the end, and a few high-energy points – including a couple of excursions by the cast into the audience, to collect rubbish and help convert some trash into a lamp – kept the mood buoyant.
Perhaps not buoyant enough to send the audience floating off down the Thames. There were melancholy undertones to Rubbish; it was, after all, set on a squalid heap of leftovers and unwanted goods. But the idea of taking a steaming, stinky, ugly mess, and finding in it some shards of gold, is likely to soften even the most gnarled and hardened of litter-pickers.
Disclosure: we were invited to a press showing of Rubbish. All views expressed in this post are my own.
Don’t forget to check out our guide to the best theatres for kids in London.