I love that Mark Storen has truly let his imagination run away with him with his latest storytelling venture, Benjamin & Me. Part of the 2015 AWESOME Festival and playing at The Blue Room, his family show about a boy and his dog doesn’t put the brakes on this wild adventure. He lets fly with a truly out-of-this world tale accompanied by song and illustrations by Jacinta Larcombe, and you’d better strap yourself in if you want to hitch a ride.
First of all, Storen is a consummate theatrical storyteller, and once you’ve heard him spin a yarn with an instrument in tow, you don’t easily forget it. Here he takes a gentle turn away from his darker, bluesier, boozier material (after all, it’s a family show); but thankfully, not too far. His story is full of fringe characters, and still carries with it an occasional focus on deliciously sinister ones. I’ll explain.
Splinter McGee steals ideas. Somehow he has the power to take over a person’s mind and take their good ideas straight from it, while his victim stands there helpless. He’s targeted a particular little boy named Will, who is inventing a boy-dog operated flying machine with his intended co-pilot, Benjamin. Benjamin is Will’s best friend, and though they don’t speak the same language, they manage to help each other through a frightening confrontation with Splinter McGee and a crazy flight to another place on their flying machine.
Storen voices all the characters in his story, and McGee is marked by a sinister laugh and a sneering tone that competes easily with the likes of The Grinch or Severus Snape. His songs cover a range of emotions, and they serve different purposes along the way, and one might even bring a tear to your eye if you’re not careful. He sits upon a weird ramshackle Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang made up of random parts that light up and shoot out smoke. He is assisted by the always-ready stage-manager-on-stage Meabh Walton, who not only turns the pages on the big illustration book that goes along with the story, but also makes everything light up, whir and fog.
Now, little little ones might find themselves overwhelmed, and I’d say the show is more suited to kids about nine and up, I’m guessing. The plot takes a lot of twists and turns, and so even grown-ups might have to hold on tight to keep up, but Storen never lets you down. He’s always there with a funny look or a good tune, and in the end, this wild ride takes a sweet turn that will make you want to run straight home and squeeze your or your best furry buddies.
Benjamin & Me runs at 6pm until 24 October. Book tickets from The Blue Room here.