It's likely that it has been a while since you've heard nursery rhymes such as Simple Simon, Georgie Porgie and Mary Had A Little Lamb, although you probably still know at least some of the words. It's also quite likely that you've never given these rhymes any thought.
Apparently inspired by his own mother's slight modification of The Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe - changing the line about her whipping her children and putting them to bed to "Kissed them all soundly and sent them to bed" - Jason Cavanagh gave these rhymes quite a bit of thought. Specifically, he wondered what made Simon simple; how did Georgie Porgie make the girls cry; and what, exactly, happened to Mary's lamb?
The result is this darkly comical re-imagining of these already quite strange vignettes from childhood. They have been brought into the modern world, their whimsy replaced with an unsettling reality. Where the originals have an inevitability about them, a feeling of simply being, Cavanagh has pulled them apart to explore the possibilities, and suddenly things are not what they seem.
Four actors (Susannah Frith, Adam Willson, Peter Rowley and Brooke Smith-Harris) play out the three separate stories with the first three taking on dual roles, and Peter Rowley doing a particularly good job. His switch between damaged and potentially dangerous George and the patient healthcare worker Martin was instant and complete each time. Adam Willson also did a good job of changing between Simon and Mary's long-suffering husband James in the Mary's Lamb story, this latter one acted out hamily like a 60's sitcom... it isn't clear why this was done and I couldn't decide if it was jarring next to the others or effective. Perhaps it was a reflection of 50s and 60s middle class America and the culture of smiling and pretending everything is just fine, no matter what. It was amusing and there was certainly something off-kilter about it, and in that respect it fitted in with the things-aren't-quite right feel that hung over the whole play. Susannah Frith seemed to relish the sit-com part of her two roles and Brooke Smith Harris as schoolgirl Alice did a wonderful job of being at once street-wise, compassionate and vulnerable.
The unfolding drama of each of the stories sustained suspense throughout the almost hour and a half. Once you settle into the extreme cosiness of The Owl & The Pussycat theatre and get the hang of what's happening on that tiny stage, your curiosity is piqued. You know things aren't right and you want to know what is going to happen. The ending is inventive, a little haunting and yet leaves you with a sad smile on your face. Well worth seeing no matter how cold and rainy it is outside.
5pound theatre presents
Kiss Them All Soundly
by Jason Cavanagh
Venue: The Owl & The Pussycat Theatre, Richmond
Date: 12th - 22th September, 2012