Performers Christine Devaney and Hendrik Lebon polled a group of children on what they’d like to see in a show. They got lots of suggestions: “Blood!” “Dinosaurs!” “Zombies!” “No kissing!” “Beyoncé!” “Please, please, please…NO PUPPETS.” Bearing some of these suggestions in mind, they’ve created Chalk About, a lovely combination of honest, subtle children’s theatre and joyful contemporary dance. And yes, there’s chalk — lots of it.
Chalk About doesn’t shy away from the fact that the performers are adults, but there’s plenty of humour and whimsy here to keep children entertained, though the show is perhaps too subtle for very young children.
Devaney and Lebon don’t make the mistake of trying to appeal to children by playing children. They play themselves and don’t patronize their audience by assuming children can’t connect with adults. In one of the most delightful bits, Lebon asks the audience some questions (“Do I look like a good person? Do I look like I have a girlfriend?”) The children’s dead honest answers (“Yes…NO!”) had the adults in the audience in stitches. There isn’t strictly a plot, though we later realise it’s a love story told through dance, dialogue, and chalk. It’s also an exploration of identity and honesty. Children are unfailing honest and have strong sense of self, something we lose as we get older. Devaney and Lebon introduce themselves quite simply, (“I’m from Scotland. I love to dance. I like pizza”), but adult identity is a complicated tangle of such simple statements.
The entire stage is used as a giant chalkboard. At the beginning, children are encouraged to come onstage and help draw. Chalk About also makes imaginative use of fabric, balloons, and paper. The aesthetic is a far cry from the typical garishly colourful children’s show. Everything is black and white, but it never feels simplistic or dull. You can imagine the colours for yourself.
The dance sections are exuberant and engaging. Forget about children—people who don’t normally enjoy dance shows should see this one. Whether dancing together or apart, Lebon and Devaney convey emotions with childlike, unconscious joy. One of my favourite vignettes involved them meeting in a club. There’s a shouted conversation and then Lebon plummets into Devaney’s arms. How could you better express falling in love? Chalk About doesn’t shy away from the fact that the performers are adults, but there’s plenty of humour and whimsy here to keep children entertained, though the show is perhaps too subtle for very young children.
Chalk About is beautiful, heartfelt, and at times immensely funny. For parents and children who are sick of shows about singing toilets and talking animals, this is clever, artistic children’s theatre that really anyone would enjoy. No puppets—promise.