As a compendium and celebration of thirty years of inspirational children’s theatre, this book serves its purpose with clarity and elan. It is divided into five main topics to describe different aspects of the company’s work – history, process, particular shows, people and structure – providing a variety of voice and tone. The text takes the reader on a journey with the company, from its “two men in a rusty Renault” start to the accomplished and world renowned outfit it has become. It is a good parallel to Oily Cart’s work ethos, taking very young children or those with profound learning and physical disabilities on a journey into a different world. The book gives a concise overview of the life and achievements of the company, and its impact on those it encounters.
What comes over most powerfully is the quality of the productions, whether they are for very small groups of people or for major festival commissions. Being led by three creative artists is the key to their longevity and the constant innovation and surprises they bring to their audiences. Tim Webb, Claire de Loon and Max Reinhardt must be extraordinary people to have lasted so long together and to still get such pleasure out of their jobs. There is an obvious joy in how they devise each show. I was reminded of other companies who have a similar range of skills that underpin everything they do, like Forkbeard Fantasy and 1927 – small teams keeping true to their own aesthetic.
I particularly like the inclusion of the script of ‘Blue’ which allowed my own imagination to play a bit. The chapters written by actors are similarly interesting, bringing in more varied personalities. The inclusion of the 2009 evaluation of ‘Something In The Air’ makes welcome reference to the Department for Education’s ‘Every Child Matters’ agenda. How Oily Cart fits into the national and international provision of great art for learning disabled people would have been interesting too.
The presentation of the book itself is rather prosaic in comparison with its contents. I would have liked a bit more playfulness or invention in its design. The educational materials they produce sound amazing; I would love to have seen some of those on the page. Also lacking is the voice of any of the learning disabled participants they work with. Mark Foster is obviously a highly valued member of the team and it would have been good to have his view on his role within it. There are some unfortunate punctuation errors which trip up the reader and a tougher editorial stance would have tidied up repetition in places.
Oily Cart is fortunate to have such champions as Mark Brown (compiler and editor) and Lyn Gardner (who wrote the foreword). The Herald, Guardian, The Stage and Time Out have reviewed much of their output over the years; no mean achievement in the on-going struggle to find a critical language for those working in this field.
Lisa Wolfe, Marketing Manager of Carousel.
Carousel is also celebrating its 30th year of working with learning disabled people in the arts. In November 2013 it presents the international Oska Bright Film Festival in Brighton. In 2014 a national roadshow and website called INVITING DEBATE is planned in collaboration with Spare Tyre, Corali, Rockets, Action Space and Mencap.