Review – Flathampton, Adults only show, Derngate, Northampton, 29th July 2011

FlathamptonHaving seen one type of unique entertainment last week, here is another refreshingly different way to spend an evening at the theatre. Essentially, this is the adults only version of a kids’ show, where the seats of the Derngate are ripped out and replaced with play mats depicting roads and roundabouts, shops and other municipal buildings, but all one-dimensional as we are in Flathampton now, where the supine is king.flathampton But Kate comes back to Flathampton from the big city and shows her old friends a new way of life, based on three-dimensional solid construction, so the Flathamptonites can now experience – in depth, literally – real shops, a real hospital, a real fashion salon and more. The Flathamptonites needed our help in assembling these flat pack pieces into proper buildings, but we were more than happy to oblige.

Bus Pass Happiness is the order of the day. From the moment your bus collects you from your bus stop, (you won’t get anywhere without your bus pass) and you whizz around the theatre foyers en route to Flathampton, you’re busily chatting away to your fellow travellers, waving to the box office staff and ushers, and even the Chief Executive was merrily waving us on to our destination. It’s as though the entire building has come out to wish you a happy playtime. Once you’re in Flathampton, you get befriended by one of its leading inhabitants and shown the ropes of the Flat Lifestyle. We were with Matt (I think that was his name) in the Clothes Zone. But when Kate arrives and drops her bombshell of Another Way Of Doing Things, it’s up to you now to teach and encourage the locals how to be 3D. On the Catwalk So I helped construct the fashion shop, and brought the dressing up clothes in (on a jolly heavy rail), and as a result Mrs Chrisparkle and I were the first on the catwalk, me with my full length black leather coat and deerstalker, she with her green gossamer gown with ivy trimmings. I also put on the ambulanceman outfit, but felt that was going just too far.

JeffThen basically you wander round the town and play at all the stalls. We hobnobbed at the Silent Disco with two members of the Our Country’s Good cast; exchanged our cash for Flathampton Pounds (1 GBP = 1 FHP) and bought two Flathampton Royale cocktails (and they sure packed a punch); played Roulette at the bank and we both won, which meant we got to wear the Top Hat; played Play Your Cards Right at Jeff’s Store, which somehow was both a store and a TV studio;Prescription got to present the Flathampton News on Live TV, which is shown on a large screen in the auditiorium; and visited Flathampton General Hospital where the slightly unhinged Doctor Zee prescribed me a Vodka Shot to help me get over my dose of Chronic Uncertainty that I apparently presented.

If it were just a question of us wandering around and playing, it would be fun and different, but generally unstructured. What makes this all really rather splendid is the introduction of a narrative throughout the evening – Kate’s arrival; the official catwalk show; and Kate’s surprise party, where themes that had been building up throughout the evening get resolved. So it actually becomes a mixture of play, promenade theatre and improvisation. Personally I always find promenade theatre really thrilling. You are right there in the thick of it, with all the actions going on around you. I remember seeing The Passion at the National Theatre Cottesloe back in 1979 I think, with the late Mark McManus (aye, the original Taggart, no less) as Christ with his amazingly bright blue eyes staring me in the face and condemning me for betrayal, only to find I had Judas standing right behind me. Doctor Zee I have instant recall of that feeling; the shudder that it gave me remains with me to this day. That’s the kind of effect this kind of theatre can have on you. OK, Flathampton doesn’t deal with such weighty subjects. But in its own way it’s a real thrill to be part of it all. The improvisation aspect comes about as you engage with the characters, Doctor Zee fancies the pants off herbecause you never know what they are going to say, and much more significantly, they don’t know what you’re going to come up with. I got personally involved as a Go-Between between the rather timid Doctor Zee and the young lady of his affections, and got her address and phone number on a piece of paper for him. On his behalf, I ascertained she was single and he let rip a massive “YES!!” with an air-punch. Great stuff!

It’s a tonic for the soul, allowing you to dig deep into your recollection of your own long lost youthful playtimes. I reckon this show could become the model for corporate events, team building exercises and the like. You could attend as part of a big group, or you could go on your own and make friends. It all seamlessly rolls together, sometimes you don’t quite know who’s an actor and who’s a fellow guest, which is rather entertaining in itself. With the assistance of a little online research I can reveal that among this talented cast are Frank Wurzinger as the loopy Doctor Zee, Jenni Jackson as his much beloved, Leigh Kelly as the multi-tasking Jeff and the engaging Michael Imerson and hilarious Becky Kitter on the catwalk. Thanks to Flathampton TV’s Laura Osei-Bonsu for use of her photos. Let’s hope they bring it back for a third season next year, and maybe increase the number of adult performances. I’m sure it could become a real cult show!

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