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Extravaganza Macabre review at Battersea Arts Centre, London – ‘warm and whimsical’

Little Bulb's Extravaganza Macabre at Battersea Arts Centre, London. Photo: Alex Brenner

Little Bulb Theatre has a history with the Battersea Arts Centre. The company has lived in its basement bedrooms and staged work in many of its spaces, including the Great Hall, which was destroyed by fire last year. So it’s fitting that the Bulbs have been chosen to christian the BAC’s new courtyard – to anoint it with whimsy and song.

Artistic director David Jubb likes putting every corner of the former town hall to use, from the roof cavity to the basement. The existing red brick and white tile courtyard has now been fitted with a gallery so that it can be used as a performance space.

Extravaganza Macabre is a loving pastiche of Victorian melodrama with a plot packed with pure-hearted women and coal-souled villains with glued-on moustaches. There are orphans, ship-wrecks, sword fights and twists worthy of Mary Elizabeth Braddon or Wilkie Collins. It’s the company at its most daft and most charming. Performed and devised by the three main Bulbs, it’s a sweet, scrappy thing staged with energy and warmth. There are plenty of foot-stamping songs and silly hymns to London. Beresford has a fine shining voice, which is deployed to great effect here, and Conway and Scott are also skilled musicians.

The whole thing plays out under a canopy of cloud to an audience wrapped in blankets (there are ponchos available too – they are well prepared for the wayward English summer). There’s a bit of audience participation, of a friendly, embracive nature, and an unscripted cameo by Pluto, the BAC cat, which surely puts a paw mark of approval on the whole enterprise.

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Warm whimsical inauguration of Battersea Art Centre’s new open air performance space