Like many only children, Ashley (Mae Munuo) has a vivid imagination. Instead of helping her mum prepare dinner or clean the house, she loses herself in elaborate fantasy games, playing at being Luke Skywalker or Robin Hood.
Catherine Alexander’s ska-infused adaptation of Nigel Gray and Michael Foreman’s children’s book is set in Coventry in 1981, against a backdrop of race riots and Thatcher’s milk-snatching. Ashley’s hard-working Windrush generation mum (Diana Yekinni) prides herself on keeping a tidy home and when Ashley fails to do as she’s told (which is often) she threatens to send her to Mrs Cole, a neighbour with loads of children and, worse, “a dirty house”.
Ashley has come to envision this woman as a terrifying entity with piranhas in the basement, though of course she turns out to be friendly and kind.
Despite some fun, if repetitive, musical numbers, the storytelling in Alexander’s colourful production is scrappy and baggy. There’s a lack of tension and the pay-off is anti-climactic. The shifts into the realm of the imagination are not particularly visually striking, which is a surprise since it’s a Complicité co-production.
What it does well, however, is to capture the experience of being the child of a loving but harried single mum when money is tight and to celebrate the power of imaginative play, as Ashley makes a Death Star out of a colander or a horse out of a bucket and broom.