Clockheart Boy from Dumbshow is a twisting tale of grief, bitter sibling rivalry and the difficulty of mending damaged hearts. The Professor lives among his eccentrically gifted creations, brooding upon the loss of his vanished daughter. Then a boy without a heart washes up on the beach, asking questions about love which lure him to explore the darkest corners of his new family’s history.
Sam Gayton’s drama is a nicely judged mixture of woeful and haunting and silly. A bedtime story stolen from Plato, complete with shadow puppets and philosophical musings, immediately gives way to something suspiciously like a good old fashioned kitchen slosh scene. Michael Bryher’s production moves between profundity and daftness with ease, and with an infectious sympathy for the frailties and follies that make us human. Asa Norling’s inventive set gives the company a magical world to play in , a rambling make-believe castle beneath a marvellous starlit sky. And the whole story is suffused with Rollo Clarke’s understated, romantic and poignant piano score.
The show’s large ensemble is brimming with energy, and while some of the characters, though picturesque, seem to lack purpose, they are all played with absolute commitment. Hester Bond’s Sophie flits with humour and uncloying sweetness through the memories and dreams of the family she left behind. As the ballerina doll who aspires to fill her place, Rachel King ripples uncannily through her dances in a devastatingly precise, off-kilter approximation of an absent, idealised daughter. Jack Lowe’s Clockheart Boy is a wide-eyed wild-haired gamin, saved from soppiness by a convincing streak of mischief. And Lotte Allan as Peepers visibly develops from a witness of others’ tragedies to the grown-up heroine of her own story.
The play eschews the obvious fairy tale ending in favour of the dawning realisation that some lost things can never be found. Clockheart Boy may look like just a kids’ show, with all the madcap paraphernalia of the genre, but there’s a lot of sophisticated thinking going on behind its endearingly ramshackle veneer.
Photograph: Clockheart Boy and the Ballerina (played by Jack Lowe and Rachel king).