Perhaps going to the beach, or indeed even the Moon, is the last thing anyone would think of doing with their children on a cold afternoon in December. Yet Mr and Mrs Moon, an Oily Cart production aimed at two-to-five-year-olds, gives parents, grandparents and guardians the opportunity to do just that and much more. Written by Tim Webb with live music by Catriona Price and Max Reinhardt, and stunning design by Claire de Loon, this performance, awash with imagination and buckets of (sandy) happiness, is a fully interactive and immersive adventure, designed to engage with young children under 6. Oily Cart also makes shows for those aged 3-19 with profound and multiple learning disabilities, and audiences familiar with either branch of the company's work will know that multi-sensory practices inform both areas. Mr and Mrs Moon is an early years show, though of course all are welcome. With its aims of opening up minds to creativity and possibility, Oily Cart is a unique theatre company with an inspiring agenda.
At the very beginning of the play as everyone stands outside waiting to be admitted, all the children sit on strips of "beach" made of straw mats. As the performers appeared to greet us – Mr Moon played by Griff Fender, Catriona Price on the violin and Natasha Magigi as Sandy the narrator – every child is presented with their own mini bucket and spade. We are then instructed to remove our shoes and socks in order to play in the sand because we are about to go to the beach. The first thing we spot is the large round sandpit in the very middle of the performance area, with a ledge. This comes as a bit of a shock to some younger members of the audience, who are clearly mystified at such a scene at Christmastime. As Sandy draws pictures in the sand for all to see with the aid of a live projection, she explains that Mr Moon has spent most of his life making sand castles on the beach.
With a bright song to break the ice, all the children get involved with Mr Moon and Sandy, learning how to make sand castles. But as the song continues, we see Mr Moon's more serious side as he expresses his sadness that the sea and wind always come along and ruin his castles: "Why can't life just slow down a bit, nothing ever stays the same". But along comes Mrs Moon played by aerial artist Grace Turner. Turner's entrance onto the sandpit from the ceiling is impressive – her aerial corde lisse skills and tinkling singing voice have everyone rapt. Mrs Moon – or Molly – asks the audience members about their lives on Earth. This interaction allows the children to take responsibility for the story by helping Molly find out about life in the daytime, a task they accept with relish. Molly invites everyone back to the Moon for tea. We climb up a 'sand ladder' and must fly the rest of the way through space.
With starry projections, a space walk around the sandpit and the simple use of a disco ball, the children are clearly mesmerised as their imaginations come alive. We meet the Moon Robots, doubled up by Fender and Magigi – an amusing duo dressed in household materials including foil and rubber gloves, with a use of ordinary items reminiscent of childhood make-believe. We drink Moon Tea that magically turns into our favourite drink on Earth and, as Molly tells us some important scientific facts about the Moon, Mr Moon is overjoyed upon discovering that there is no wind or sea so his castles will never be destroyed. But as Robot 2 lets the moonwind out of the huge balloon (much to the dismay of some startled toddlers), all the children must hurry and catch the wind in their buckets to fill the balloon back up, making them the heroes of the play. As the balloon is sealed with a "sandwich bag clip" (the adults chuckle) Mr Moon proclaims that he wishes to stay on the Moon with Mrs Moon. We all return to Earth, waving goodbye to the two of them as we fly through space and land with a splash in the sea.
There was much that made this production magical: the chance it gives children to express themselves and help performers with the story, together with the simple props, light humour and the live music and sound effects. The immersive experience of Mr and Mrs Moon is perfectly suited to its young audience, but will also resonate with adults, unlocking imaginations and introducing a theatre of the senses in a beautiful, endearing way.