The Jollies: World Premiere Reviews

The Jollies (by Alfred Hickling)
"When little Billy is invited to step inside Mr Magico's mysterious cabinet, it is as if all his birthdays have come at once. Or all his next 25 birthdays, to be precise, as he steps out again the same age as his dad.
This is as much a surprise to the Great Magico as it is to Billy's horrified mother, who storms into the cabinet to retrieve the missing seven year-old - only to re-emerge seconds later on the wrong side of puberty. At this point the madness stops - or, depending on how you look at it, begins - as sensible Polly decides to stay right where she is inside her 11-year-old body, in order to figure out a way of restoring her family to their respective generations.
Christmas time in Scarborough usually offers Alan Ayckbourn an opportunity to indulge in one of his elaborate games of time travel. But whereas recent children's shows, such as the sublime
Whenever, have adopted a fantasy layer of fairy-tale Victoriana, The Jollies is set resolutely in the here and now.
Polly's problems are modern problems. Having to explain the situation to the social services, for example.
Or trying to work out how to make a living when the breadwinner is aged seven, and your mum is nine years short of being able to resume her job in a betting shop.
I do not know how the Stephen Joseph Theatre's casting department got their heads around this one. But the show features outstanding performances from two terrific, tiny actresses, Charlie Hayes and Jo Theaker, whose diminutive stature belies their sizable talent. Robert Wilfort and Becky Hindley are also great as the larger versions.
It increasingly becomes clear that Ayckbourn's work for children is not an alternative strand to his adult plays, but a direct continuation of them. His recently completed trilogy,
Damsels in Distress, plays with the same theme of young women thrust into adult situations, and Polly's resourcefulness makes her a sister to them. The Jollies is like a cheerful scherzo to the symphonic complexity of the other three plays, and will certainly thrill the kids this Christmas. But it is really a grown-up play trapped inside a child's body."
(The Guardian, 10 December 2002)

Kidding With The Grown Ups (by Jeremy Kingston)
"Although the title of Alan Ayckbourn's new caper for children may sound like the latest team of multicoloured bouncing dolls from kids' television, it turns out to be the surname of a family sorely tried by their experience at a magic show. Polly is the bright 11-year-old who tells the story, her young brother is Billy, mother Jilly, and if Dad had not disappeared we should perhaps learn that his name was Oily. The Folly, Holly Drive is where they are said to live, probably at Sollyhull.
A genuine magic show occupies a fair chunk of the first half, with Adrian McLoughlin's anxiously merry Mr Magico jabbering away in batty Italiano as his playing cards appear in unexpected places.
Unfortunately, when Billy volunteers to go inside the magic Burmese cabinet, descending from above to settle over an evident trapdoor, he reappears in the body that will be his when he's 33. When his mother rushes in to recover his proper self she returns as she looked aged eight. The trapdoor has taken them to a very unexpected place indeed.
Polly now has a kid brother everyone assumes to be her (oddly childish) Dad, and a mother patronised by grown-ups because she can only be a (curiously, bossy) child. The police investigate, the social services are concerned, and soon the Jollies are fleeing through the countryside in search of Mr Magico. Eventually they themselves forced to work as skivvies in a house staffed by grim retainers.
Ayckbourn's writing here is the way details that establish character are used as vital elements in later areas of the plot. Adult Jilly works at a betting shop because she can add up in seconds: this is what wins the respect of Mrs Amplespoon, struggling over household accounts. Young Billy is a withdrawn child happiest when making inanimate objects talk to each other: while labouring in Lord Crufton's garden he does the same with sticks. This excites the devotion of Rambo, the soft-hearted killer dog. The story has a delightful riff with the boy only getting the dog to play when the hound can throw the stick and Billy retrieves it.
Charlie Hayes gives Polly a charming air of good sense combating strange forces, and Jo Theaker, her "kid mother", is able to look unnervingly like an old person in a young body. Becky Hindley so effectively doubles the roles of Jilly when older and the fearsome Mrs Amplespoon that I had to consult the programme to be sure that they were one and the same. Add Robert Wilfort's lolloping man-sized boy and the remarkably precise trickery with lighting from Mick Hughes and the show is a magical mystery tour of delight."
(The Times, 7 December 2002)

The Jollies (by Dave Windass)
"Another Christmas, another addition to Alan Ayckbourn's children's theatre cannon.
The Jollies is two hours of tremendous fun for younger audiences and proves that there is no need to resort to a tired chorus of 'oh no it's not' at this time of year.
The piece grabs from the off by opening with a magic show complete with inept Tommy Cooper-style conjurer Mr Magico (Adrian McLoughlin), before setting the play's premise in motion by transforming seven-year-old Billy into an adult, played by Robert Wilfort, and his mum Jilly (Becky Hindley) into a young girl, played by Jo Theaker.
Like Theaker, the mature Charlie Hayes has to perform as a child - something she manages to pull off with great flair - while also serving as narrator throughout this theatrical twist on the popular films
Big and Freaky Friday.
Wilfort's portrayal of a boy trapped in a man's body is an absolute joy, while Hindley makes her battleaxe Mrs Amblespoon a terrifying caricature. Danny Scheinmann gets to bound around Pip Leckenby's sliding set and create havoc as tail-wagging trickster dog Rambo.
The second act fails to keep up the staggering momentum of the first but, with the clever use of trap doors, dry ice and Mick Hughes' outstanding lighting, this show at the Stephen Joseph Theatre is a pleasant alternative to the usual dirge wheeled out at lesser venues."
(The Stage, 28 December 2002)

The Jollies (by Charles Hutchinson)
"Meet Polly Jollie, from The Folly, in Holly Drive.
Not everything in that statement is true, but then Polly has problems trying to convince people of the truth of her dilemma.
Let's start with the definite truths in Alan Ayckbourn's latest time-juggling children's adventure for Christmas, his 62nd play.
Narrator Polly (Charlie Hayes) is 11; she lives in a "town somewhere in the north" with her harassed 33-year-old mother Jilly Jollie (Becky Hindley), and her younger brother, Billy, who likes playing his favourite games on his own. "He is not crazy, but weird," says Polly.
That behaviour may be explained in part by the lack of a father figure (the not so jolly side of this Ayckbourn fairytale). Mr Jollie left home two years ago after, in Polly's words, "adulterating" with a woman in his office.
Mum works in a betting shop but while she may be a mathematical genius, the figures don't add up to much at home. Today is Billy's eighth birthday; he wants a dog, but there is neither the room nor the financial wherewithal.
Instead his birthday treat is a trip to see Mr Magico (Adrian McLoughlin), the veteran, erratic magician whose Spanish accent is as fake as his tan. His incompetence peaks with the disappearance of Billy in a magic cabinet. Mother goes in after her son; Billy (Robert Wilfort) returns first with the body of a 32-year-old but the mind and clothes of a child.
When mum (now diminutive Jo Theaker) re-emerges, she has been turned into an eight year old but still with her adult mental faculties intact.
Trouble is, now everyone, not least PC Butts (Danny Scheinmann), thinks she is an over-cocky child and Billy is an incompetent, hopeless father; and Polly is confronted with suddenly having to play mum, as they strive to return their lives to normal.
The police, social services and a big dog called Rambo are all after them, as the family goes on the run and takes up 'captive' employment under the fierce Mrs Amplespoon on Lord Crufton's estate, seemingly the last bastion of Victorian child labour.
Writer-director Ayckbourn is a master of these imaginative, travelling tales in the tradition of Grimm, Andersen and
The Wizard Of Oz.
The sharp measure of chill bleakness - all the adult men are either absent, weak or incompetent - is countered by humour and fun and games, played out with alacrity and relish by his button-bright cast.
Mr Magico may have lost his magic but Ayckbourn still has it."
(Yorkshire Evening Press, 9 December 2002)

All reviews are copyright of the respective publication.