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Theatre Review (London): Duckie’s Lullaby in the Pit Theatre at the Barbican

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There is nothing cosy about the 21st century: 24-hour tweets, texts, and TV make it a marvel anyone gets any sleep, let alone the seven hours of slow wave slumber promised by the blurb for Duckie’s Lullaby, in the Barbican’s Pit Theatre until 24 July. Designer Laura Hopkins has transformed the Pit into a giant circular bedroom: audiences arrive for cookies and cocoa at 10.30 before heading to bed (your choice of single, double, or what looked a triple berth) in time for an 11 pm start to what can only be described as a sleepover show.Duckie's Lullaby

The first half (there is a short break for the cleaning of teeth) sees a succession of giant cotton wool characters come and go in a carousel of surreal song and dance: the highlight is a chorus of octopi offering an open invitation into their underwater world. Interspersed into the procession of childhood dream figures are ballads and storytelling, whimsical episodes echoing the meandering looping thoughts of a mind unravelling on the edge of sleep.

In the second section the scope of the piece spills out into the solar system through a polyphonic blend of chants and sketches by which the human nervous system is linked to Pythgoras’ ancient model of the Universe to the sound of the music of the spheres. It is all much simpler than I am making it sound and the overall effect is immensely benign. There is an inexpressible comfort in drifting away in a strange sort of intimacy with a room full of strangers. The last thing I can remember is the return of the cotton wool caricatures, more formless than before, but welcome as old friends are when encountered unexpectedly.

The morning brings a dawn ‘chorus’ which it would be churlish to spoil by explaining and, over coffee and croissants, real life resumes: tired staff still in their pyjamas guide you out of the Barbican and back into 2011.

Duckie’s Lullaby will not be everybody’s cup of cocoa: the Pit is pretty infernal on these hot nights, it only takes one snorer, and I don’t advise going on a school night but, if you secretly yearn for feather pillows and spiced possets, then book yourself a bed in director Mark Whitelaw’s wonderfully gentle world.

Duckie’s Lullaby is playing in the Pit at the Barbican until 24 July 2011.

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