Saturday, March 09, 2019

Milo’s Hat Trick – another magical marvel for ages 3+ (Cahoots NI in Lyric Theatre until 10 March + Irish tour) #bcf19

It’s been fascinating over the last few years to watch Cahoots develop a suite of magical shows for young audiences. Their latest Milo’s Hat Trick has adapted Jon Agee’s children’s book for stage by Paul Bosco Mc Eneaney and is pitched anyone aged three and over.

A simple piano melody announces the beginning of the show and as the lights dim, a hush descends over the family audience. While Milo the Magnificent’s promoter and manager builds up his reputation, the magician is shown to be a bumbling performer whose tricks no longer work. Scolded backstage, Milo is under pressure to pull a proverbial rabbit out of a hat and deliver a new impressive routine. Various creatures come to his aid, inspiring and supporting him, though the road to success does not look smooth.

Through a mix of dance, puppetry and physical theatre, three performers and countless top hats create a spellbinding performance. Peter J McCauley’s rhythmic synth sound track runs throughout the 50-minute show. Sabine Dargent’s set constructs three curtained alcoves which reveal performers and, along with the precision lighting, direct the audience’s attention to each new scene and character entrance.

Emer McDaid plays the nervy promoter, the only character to speak. Every line and lyric is delivered through an exotic accent – a nondescript European twang – with humorous accenting of syllables. She’s a great mix of crazy and threatening. Crystal Zillwood handles the puppets – a bird (familiar from Shh! We have a Plan), a rather fun rabbit, and the centrepiece bear with its big brown eyes – injecting their movements and motives with an anthropomorphism that draws in the audience (young and old). Tender nudges almost make those watching move in sympathy. Once again Jude Quinn brings his L'École Jacques Lecoq training to the stage with a masterclass in controlled gesture, facial expression and timing.

Carrots appear and disappear, the audience become involved in mind-reading tricks, impossible chase sequences confound and amaze, and characters disappear into thin air. There’s certainly enough going on to amuse and entertain the grown-ups in attendance as well as the children.

Curtains open and close quickly and reliably without human intervention. Familiar props – particularly top hats – exhibit surprising behaviours. Aside from the illusions, there’s a precision that must take months of effort and years of experience over the development of multiple shows to be able to combine technical wizardry with subtle human performances so seamlessly. Cahoots achieve a level of minimalism that remove every unnecessary distraction from the audience’s view, leaving only bursting bladders and sugary treats to cause young theatre-goers’ attention span to waver.

Milo the Magnificent will continue to work on his routine in Milo’s Hat Trick at the Lyric Theatre as part of Belfast Children’s Festival until Sunday 10 March before touring through Limavady (Tuesday 19), Navan (Thursday 21), Enniskillen (Saturday 23), Dún Laoghaire (Sunday 24), Castleblayney (Friday 29) and Lisburn (Saturday 30).

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