With boilersuits and bunny ears, Scram & Scrum Theatre take on capitalism, slavery, coercive control and….children’s TV. The boilersuits are worn by Frog, Perry and Beaver, a team of childlike dressmakers who live and work in a small, locked room. Every day they slave to complete a dress which is then whisked away by an imperious manager and graded by a disembodied voice. Food rations are scaled up or down in line with their daily grading, and if they ever achieve an elusive ten they will be freed to visit the Play Garden and be with Hutchy.
Hutchy is a giant hare, a children’s television star who bewitches his gang of adoring young acolytes with cheery aphorisms and catchy songs. Characters that as children we accepted and loved at face value, can look a little creepy through jaded adult eyes, but in this case Hutchy really is sinister. His excruciatingly cheesy show (projected onto the back wall of the stage), is actually a mind control device through which, like some crazy cult leader or televangelist, he enslaves vulnerable young people and puts them to work in his garment sweatshop. It is never quite clear how Hutchy took his victims from indoctrination to incarceration, which is only a small thing, but strangely irritating. Even an elaborate fantasy like this needs to have working parts.
There’s certainly a lot going on here, and the ideas come thick and fast. When Frog makes an emotional connection with a ladybird we think of trafficked people, isolated from all affection. The sealed room brings to mind, naturally, the locked factories of Asia where workers die in fires, unable to escape. And as the unfortunate trio fail to reach the promised land of the Play Garden, despite giving their all, we are reminded of the poor faithful who are sustained through the bleakest of existences by the promise of a shining afterlife.
Sadly, this interesting conceit is badly let down by deeply weird presentation. Everything is performed in the exaggerated manner of a terrible children’s show. The opening scene has Beaver, Frog and Perry (played by adult male actors) skipping about and talking in toddler voices. Later on, a well-to-do customer is played as a Very Posh Lady. The campness dial is turned to 11, and it’s cringe-making in many places. The only exception to this rule is Hutchy himself, played with malicious relish by Bewley Dean-Stanton. Hutchy is a larger-than-life character, a fraud and a villain, so it is not incongruous that he should be over-the-top and hyper-real. However, there is no reason for the others to be so, and the whole show would be enormously better, and even more unsettling, if it were played straight.
A lot of care has clearly gone into this show. Joseph Wood’s theme tune is properly creepy, and Hutchy’s songs are killer earworms that I was still humming when I got home. The set, though simple, is carefully put together, with colour-coordinated pastels, and little details like branding on the dress boxes. Overall though, it is let down by its tone and manner of delivery. I don’t think it is intended as a scathing commentary on children’s TV, I think it’s intended as a commentary on exploitation, faith and relationships, but those interesting discussions are obscured by a cartoonish delivery that is often uncomfortable to watch. There is good stuff here, and different creative choices could allow it to shine.
Directed by: Giulia Hallworth
Written by: Ed Cooke
Composed by: Joseph Wood
Video Content Directed by: Sonny Howes
Choreographty by: Mathilde Sofie KLÆRKE
Produced by: Scram & Scrum Theatre
Hutchy The Hare plays at VAULT Festival 2023 until 19 March. Further information and bookings can be found here.