The Show in Which Hopefully Nothing Happens is a child-centric theatrical masterpiece that feels like Pinter meeting pantomime for the Pixar audience.
My two six-year-old co-critics were rapt from the moment they entered the Unicorn’s black box Clore Theatre and beamed and belly-laughed for the play’s duration. Veterans of quality children’s theatre, like The Gruffalo’s Child or We’re Going on A Bear Hunt, will be taken to a new level of audience engagement – even without the conventions of musical numbers, call-and-response or sing-alongs. If you don’t have a well-established kid’s theatre habit yet, let this production be your entrée to the best and most original of the genre.
Unlike many family shows that are adaptations of literary IP, which follow a tried-and-tested cross-over and merchandising formula, this work is intrinsically theatrical and therefore thoroughly delicious to behold. With several extended gags reminiscent of the front-of-curtain British Music Hall scene-change tradition, The Show in Which Hopefully Nothing Happens takes the sensation of “he’s behind you”, during which children’s frustration mounts and explodes in joyous comic release, to its apotheosis. It is nothing short of life-affirming to sit amongst the collective and unrestrained chortling of primary school boys and girls. Masterful in suspense and shtick, every child in the house was on the edge of the seat urging on the comedy as if their life savings were staked in a Grand National photo-finish.
The play is the creation of Dutch-based Theater Artemis, led by artistic director Jetse Batelaan. This spring’s run, brought to London in co-production with the Unicorn Theatre until 28th April, is its UK premiere. British actors Nigel Barrett and Riad L. Richie share the stage and deliver a superlative performance rarely seen amongst the hard-working kids’ theatre troupers who tour arts centres up-and-down the land during school holidays.
Although initially a touch disquieting in its format for a minute or two (with pauses and tension worthy of a gentle Harold Pinter or a sweet Edward Albee), the performers mesmerise in their commitment and comic delivery. With a series of moments that are absurdist for a knowing, theatre-savvy crowd but just plain-old funny for kids, the action is entertaining for everyone in the audience: seasoned or not. In one segment, Batelaan directs a sort of ‘identical twins’ farce that is so expertly executed by Barrett it is evocative of Tom Hollander’s ‘needle-sharp’ comic performance in the Old Vic’s 2010 revival of A Flea in Her Ear – but you don’t need to be familiar with Feydeau to enjoy the friendly farce before your eyes.
Using props, set, sound and lighting to great, but not intrusive, effect, set designer Hester Jolink and lighting designer Gé Wegman create a wonderful focal point for the eyes of children and deliver visual suspense and humour. The arrival of the ‘Happenings’ (after Moments and Details make a mark) is climactically satisfying to children who marvel at the stagecraft.
Parents of children with audio sensitivity may want to note that there are some fairly loud alarm and drilling sounds at the beginning of the play (although all children in the packed Saturday afternoon performance I attended were unfazed). Nonetheless, this production feels inclusive and offers interest and stimulation for a range of senses –giving pleasure for all types of brain-wiring and backgrounds.
Silly, subversive and rather genius, The Show in which Hopefully Nothing Happens is like an unexplainable conspiracy of family happiness. If enjoyed over this year’s Easter holidays, it is likely to be fondly remembered for years to come.
Review by Mary Beer
Welcome to the most boring show in history: an actor who never gets to perform and a security guard who just hopes nothing will occur.
Originally created in the Netherlands by highly acclaimed, maverick theatre-makers Theater Artemis, The Show in Which Hopefully Nothing Happens is one of the most popular family shows performed in Europe. This incredibly surreal, deliciously funny, absurdist show has become part of the Dutch theatre canon and is now being recreated with a British cast and performed for the first time in the UK, in this co-production with the Unicorn Theatre.
Created and directed by Jetse Batelaan (winner of the prestigious Silver Lion Award for Theatre 2019 from the Theatre Biennale in Venice) and featuring UK performers Nigel Barrett and Riad L Richie, The Show in Which Hopefully Nothing Happens has been described as being about nothing and everything at the same time.
In a world where increasingly nothing seems to make sense, step inside, take a seat and realise you are not alone in this carefully crafted, absurdist masterpiece of hope, humour and failure.
147 Tooley Street, London SE1 2HZ