Shhhh... Source:
Shhhh… Source:

Christina Maiden
Oldham Coliseum Theatre Learning and Engagement
Oldham Coliseum
19 July 2014

Imagine a world without words – this was the premise of The Last Word, a fairy tale set in a faraway land.

A friendly narrator guides us along the familiar path of many a bedtime story: the plucky brother and sister, the plummy-voiced king making announcements to his kingdom, the cast of quirky supporting characters. Although the problem is an unusual one – everybody gradually forgetting word after word, until none at all remained – we watch it unfold in a very familiar way. The cast take their audience on a comfortable journey, with performances that are energetic and witty enough to keep things entertaining along the road.

The show is stolen by Foxton’s design, though – a backdrop of house silhouettes, cut out as if from white paper, and two-dimensional cardboard props decorated with black-and-white line drawings of the objects they were to represent. The whole thing looks like a beautiful comic strip or graphic novel, the monochrome enhanced by contrast with the characters’ brightly-coloured costumes.

For a play about the disappearance of language, The Last Word contains remarkably little silence. Perhaps if there had been more gaps where words should have been, this would have gone some way towards creating an atmosphere as dramatically enthralling as the set was visually striking – as it was, while the disappearance of words led to comedy scenes of misunderstanding and failed communication, we saw little of the potential terror of a world in which nobody could talk.

The excellent young musicians who provide accidental music could accompany some snapshots of a wordless world, lending more of that darkness that runs deep in the best fairy tales.