I’m crouched down alongside a bunch of kids and we’re shouting merrily: “Think big! Think big!” We’re with Nanny Lacey, a woman who loves to make miniature models of her life’s most magical moments. Nanny is losing her memory and will soon move into a care home. Before then, she wants to jump into one of her miniature memories one last time. We can all join her: we just have to believe.
Small Wonders has been created for London international festival of theatre by Punchdrunk, and is directed by Tara Boland and Peter Higgin. It boasts all the rigour and ambition of the immersive-theatre pioneers’ shows for adults and – crucially – isn’t merely a visual extravaganza. There’s real emotion and inspiration at the heart of Nessah Muthy’s script, created in collaboration with local teenagers in Tottenham and containing happy moments plucked from their own lives.
Kate Rigby’s set is full of exquisite detail and cheeky imagination. We arrive outside Nanny’s pebbledash home, tidy flower baskets hanging from the windows. The flat is crammed with 30 years of knick-knacks and is so utterly convincing that my theatre companion Qeiva, aged 11, is a little anxious. “This is someone’s home!” Qeiva whispers, and sits nervously at the back of the room.
All the kids are initially intimidated, but Nanny (Erin Geraghty) and her daughter Bella (Sarah Akokhia) soon put the children at ease. Nanna talks us through the models crammed into her home and, gradually, cherished memories take over the living room. We look at a tiny model of Nanny and Bella dancing at Butlins and a disco ball suddenly spins over our heads. Nanny remembers a rainy caravan holiday and shining rainbow-lights burst through the ceiling. The real world and the imagined begin to merge.
Geraghty builds a brilliant rapport with the children, who are soon anxious to help her in any way possible. There’s a certain sense of mischief that only grandparents and grandchildren share, which Small Wonders taps into quite brilliantly. Eventually, after “thinking big”, we dive headfirst into one of Nanny’s miniature creations and explore a fantasy forest. To say much more would spoil the fun but there are surprises nestling in every corner. At one point, Qeiva pulls on a vine to unleash a canopy of stars, all while munching on a biscuit. I’ve never seen her so happy at the theatre.
When we return to Nanny’s flat, we find it lit up with tiny adventures. Qeiva and I spot mini models of Nanny and Bella playing around in the bread bin; dancing about on top of a broom; laughing happily in a frying pan. There’s magic everywhere we turn, now that we know to look for it.