In recent visits to the cinema, just before the main feature, I am urged to ‘leave reality behind.’ This seems to me good advice to anyone going to see Furness Youth Theatre’s current production of the time-travelling adventure, Timecopter. In other words, to get the most from this show you must forget structure and logic and just let your imagination run amok - along with that of the very enthusiastic and energetic group of young performers.
Timecopter is an original piece of theatre drawn from the imagination of local writer, musician and teacher Elizabeth Greaves with, apparently, a bit of help from her children. The plot is deceptively simple – on the last day of term, class teacher Miss Daiken brings in her grandfather’s timecopter invention which magically transports the class first to ancient Camelot, where they manage to tame a fierce dragon, and then to a robotic future-world where – well, basically they save mankind from extinction. I say ’deceptively simple’ as the story is also crammed with ideas and moral messages (women’s rights, climate change, the importance of education), a wide range of original songs (from rock music and rap to folksong) and, for a large ensemble, fairly complex choreography. As an added extra the music is supplied, on-stage, by cast members. As such it is altogether a demanding production for such young performers (age range from 8 to 12) but underlying it all is a tremendous sense of fun and playfulness.
The individual personalities of the main protagonists all come across well, each played with clear relish and confidence – so we have Jess Bailey giving us an effective portrayal of the friendly but firm Miss Daiken, Marina Bailey as the ‘cool’ aspiring rock star Rocky, Maisie Wilcock as Rose the studious historian, Anna Lapegue as Mattie the cynical maths geek, Ben Thomas & Noah Jepson as the belligerent twins, and Will Jones-Barnes as the petulant, but basically brave (as long as he had his trusty teddy bear) Titch.
There is almost too much going on to defy adequate summary, but it was clear all had worked extremely hard to bring the story to life. In Camelot Rhiannon Clark did extremely well for example as Merlin the wizard, having taken on the role at just a few hours’ notice following a sudden withdrawal through illness. For me there were a couple of highlights - the eventual appearance of a very effective life-size menacing dragon of course, and the lively ‘Pi’ song, Mattie’s entertaining way of explaining to King Arthur ‘Pi’ as a mathematical constant (you know the one, the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter with the infinite number of digits). To be honest I wasn’t much wiser by the end but I still thought the song worked really well.
In the future-world the cast gives us a vision of an anaemic, robotic time to come, and the nightmarish prospect of a fiery meteor winging its way to destroy us all. It is perhaps more than necessary here to stretch your imagination in order to keep up. The lonely robot Iona is the key character, portrayed by Angela Young with an impressive degree of self-assurance, and I was particularly drawn to her performance of her plaintiff song, Live It For Ever.
Overall, as a departure from the tried and tested, FYT’s attempt to bring something creative and innovative to the stage via this production is a very ambitious undertaking – the staging of time traveling machines, dragons, and meteors would normally require a much larger budget than is available to FYT. But, as I say, if you are prepared to suspend disbelief, go with the flow, and stretch your imagination there is much here to enjoy. Certainly the energy and sense of fun conveyed by the cast is something to savour. Elizabeth Greaves says that if there is a message within the piece it is that children are our future. I think there’s also a deeper one, reminiscent of the famous quote from George Bernard Shaw: ‘We do not cease to play because we grow old. We grow old because we cease to play.’ If nothing else ‘Timecopter’ reminds us of the importance of keeping within us that spirit of imagination and playfulness.