It’s hard to review a show which tries to cover as many bases as possible in the space of an hour, and strives for a level of meta-theatre which is enough to induce a headache if you even begin to try and unpack it. Nevertheless, that’s She Howls Kelp, and as a critic I am duty bound to do just that, and tell you it isn’t worth your time.
Theatremakers Yellow Hat Productions and those who have already seen the show might think I’ve missed the point by awarding them the same number of stars as the fake ‘reviewer’ in this absurd and abstract play, but there’s nothing intelligent in making a nonsensical production, goading critics into slating it, and then making out like that was some smart, deliberate plan all along when they do. It feels like any criticism I make in this article could be refuted as being part of the point of this whole farce, and I’m unconvinced that that’s a valid ‘get out of jail free’ card.
She Howls Kelp, on the surface, follows an otter’s relationship with a lighthouse, one who across several encounters gets handled a packet of crisps to tip into its mouth as it flails about on its back. In fact, actors Theo Toksvig-Stewart and Madeleine Gray make it repeatedly clear they take the issue of climate change Very Seriously, despite subjecting audiences to operatic singing (Gray is actually rather impressive), dance numbers (well choreographed), puppetry (as much as an otter plushie on a stick constitutes a ‘puppet’) and more. I don’t take too kindly to shows which throw a variety of theatrical formats at a crowd and then leave them to make sense of it all and pull out some profound meaning, but some individuals around me certainly found humour in a play which deliberately tries to be as terrible and chaotic as possible. Even when this is purposeful, there is usually method to the madness. Here, there’s hardly any.
I refrain from writing “none” because maybe, just maybe, there is a deeper satire of issue-led plays which fails to land properly. The pair dream of Soho Theatre and West End transfers, hope for Oliviers and demand two rounds of applause and a standing ovation from audiences in a way which could well be mocking the self-importance of certain fringe shows. In particular, those which seek to explore a specific topic with flair, only to tell us something we already know or present a very 101-style introduction.
Up until this point, I haven’t mentioned that the full name of the show is The Play With The Really Long Slightly Poetic Sounding Title That’s Actually A Bit Too Long But That’s OK Because It’s About Something Important, which only further ridicules a certain pretentiousness of indie theatre productions. The two actors also explain at the very start that they’re actors playing actors playing characters, and that that might be a bit confusing. It is, and is soon forgotten when the antics get underway. It’s provocative, audacious and outrageous in pushing the boundaries of theatre – credit where it’s due – temporarily kicking audience members out of the theatre and concluding with a loud and shocking display of partial nudity which is better left without further elaboration.
Personally, I prefer theatre which starts to get the cogs whirring as you watch the performance, not when the lights come back up and you’re left wondering what you invested your time and money in. It’s exhausting, and the comedy soon becomes painful and grating. Some, inevitably, won’t mind, and if participatory theatre is your bag, then there’s definitely things in this show for you – sit on one of the front benches.
Alternatively, perhaps I was right about She Howls Kelp taking the mick out of fanciful fringe shows – in which case I’ll look sillier than the two actors looked on stage, and argue you should have seen One Woman Show at the Ambassadors instead.
The Play With The Really Long Slightly Poetic Sounding Title That’s Actually A Bit Too Long But That’s OK Because It’s About Something Important or She Howls Kelp is now playing at VAULT Festival until 12 March.
Production Images: Yellow Hat Productions.
Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘The Play With The Really Long Slightly Poetic Sounding Title That’s Actually A Bit Too Long But That’s OK Because It’s About Something Important’ or ‘She Howls Kelp’ for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this article and all opinions stated above are honest and my own.