DANIEL LUBIN reviews Little Bulb Theatre’s production Wail at Jacksons Lane theatre.

Little Bulb Theatre’s production of Orpheus, which ran at the Battersea Arts Centre in 2014, merged the myth of Orpheus with the 1930s Parisian jazz scene by casting the French jazz guitarist Django Reindhart as its title character. The show was as thrilling as it was hilarious, as accomplished in its drama as it was in its musical numbers. Wail is another impressive achievement from Little Bulb Theatre. A smaller production with a cast of two, Clare Beresford and Dominic Conway, it is a celebration of whales that exhibits the same imaginative ingenuity and musical talent that characterises Little Bulb’s work.

Photo courtesy of Little Bulb Theatre

Little Bulb Theatre believes music has the ‘ability to inspire and communicate beyond language in a universal way’. The show proves this ethos true: it starts with Dominic on acoustic guitar and Clare on drums both singing, and then screaming, ‘whale’ with an eerie yet comically exaggerated ardour.

The stage is littered with instruments: an acoustic guitar, an electric guitar, a floor tom, two timpani drums, cymbals, a mandolin, an accordion, a keyboard, a double bass, a piccolo and two trombones. This huge range of sounds is complemented by the pair’s vocals. Together, they show that music is a powerful device for channelling creativity and humour, as in the ode to whales titled ‘Wow, You’re Amazing’. Similarly, after showing the audience the length of your average humpback whale by stretching a tape measure across the auditorium, they perform a song on double bass and piccolo about scale. Later, Dominic’s anger at his having never seen a whale is expressed on the electric guitar in the angriest of the show’s numbers, ‘Anger in A-Minor’.

This cabaret is divided into a variety of strange sections. One of the first songs is a farcical reading of the encyclopaedia entry for ‘whale’ put to music. Later the audience is delivered a children’s TV-style science lecture, bursting with joyous enthusiasm. Collaging different scenes and skits, the show engages crowds with the passion of the onstage duo, who have such an obvious love for their work and their audience.

Photo courtesy of Little Bulb Theatre

The show radiates love; the actors’ love of whales, but also the love they have for each other – for only from such a friendship could a piece like this, full of wit and daring, emerge. The play also involves its audience in a mock game show, orchestrating the crowd into a whale mating-song choir. The audience is made to feel welcome and involved, and without the awkwardness that audience participation often entails.

One of the closing numbers is a ‘song about songs’ – a tribute to music and what it has to offer us. Performed with such contagious joviality and warmth it is hard not to get caught up in the pair’s excitement surrounding whales. The show is, of course, intentionally silly – but its silliness is pulled off with such aplomb that Wail becomes a wonderful, energetic piece of theatre. It is hard not to come out with an appreciation of Little Bulb’s capacity for soulful music, imaginative theatre, as well as the pure beauty of whales.

Little Bulb Theatre’s Wail played at Jacksons Lane from 2nd-4th March and is now touring until 1st April. You can find more information here.

Featured image courtesy of Little Bulb Theatre.