Sky in the Pie (OSO Arts Centre)

Sky in the Pie (OSO Arts Centre, Barnes, until February 22nd. Also at VAULT Festival March 6th-8th)


Circus skills, puppetry and physical theatre bring celebrated author Roger McGough’s poetry to life in the wacky and inventive Sky in the Pie at OSO Arts Theatre, Barnes.

This tremendously entertaining show aims to inspire young and old to fall in love with poetry and the Feathers of Daedalus Circus company magnificently ensures that the colours of the brash and breezy presentation “quite tickle the pallet with a blend of delicate hues” – and may even, in the words of the title poem, help audiences “acquire a taste for the Cosmos” that the Arts have to offer.

The show looks beyond just the poetry in McGough’s 1980s Sky in the Pie collection, dipping cheerfully into a 50-year compendium of verse plus new specially created works.

So it is that we get animated and much-appreciated versions of gems such as Bottom (“the butt of a hundred jokes”), Wouldn’t It Be Funny If You Didn’t Have a Nose, Class Warfare, Born to Bugle and To Amuse Emus.

Many would be perfectly content just to hear a considerable number of McGough’s poems delivered with a careful ear to the rhythm and humour, which the five-strong Feathers company do so admirably.

But, under the creative direction of Joanna Vymeris, this 55-minute delight goes a lot further. The framing device for the show is a girl’s first day at a new school (itself the topic of a McGough verse) and the sort of daydreams one might have when studying poetry.

So the athletic performers (putting on an occasionally breathtaking but always impressive physical display in the small OSO Arts Theatre space) turn to unicycling for I Wish I Were a Crotchet, juggling for The Sound Collector, and a beautiful and enchanting version of The Midnight Skaters with Feathers regular Josh Frazer spinning lyrically in a well-controlled Cyr wheel.

There’s a fun section where a poem is read out with the last word missing and the keen audience has to shout out the correct ending based on finding the right rhyme.

There’s puppetry as well, with wonderful designs by Sian Kidd, including Mr Head (the headmaster), a catapillow, the apologetic scarecrow worried about giving nightmares when it’s only there to scare the birds, and The Girl Who Became a Book.

It’s not all light and fluffy either: there’s a serious reference to bullying with a “colour of candlewax” puppet of the “thin as a sharpened pencil” Raymond Gough (The Boy with a Similar Name) , which is heartbreaking.

Many of the poems are set to music by Steve Halliwell, with some memorable bounce, all played against a dreamscape set featuring illuminated stars and a moon with various items of furniture and props doubling as desks, a bed and bases for the acrobatics.

In addition to Frazer, each of the performers have moments to shine in the circus skills and poetry recitation, with Max on musical instruments, Ludo (adding an interesting Gallic flavour to McGough’s words), Rebecca and Rosie.

Sky in the Pie is a real treat and would probably work being bigger and bolder. At its heart is an intelligent and warm intent to match memorable visuals and the enduring quality of McGough’s original words in a show that sparkles and enthrals from start to finish with the encouraging promise that “tomorrow has your name on it.”

David Guest

Images: Mark Neal/DavidGuest