Bristol Old Vic Theatre dress rehearsal of 'The Gigantic Beard that was Evil" on January 6th 2015

I will never think about the challenges of youth in the same way again. This devised piece by the Bristol Old Vic Young Theatre company, based on a graphic novel by Stephen Collins, was funny and daunting all at the same time. This creative company took us, like a well-oiled machine, through a story of the mundane being used to quash deep-seated fears that eventually overwhelm and destroy. I understood the monster of the story – facial hair – as a metaphor for the pressing and often unattractive aspects of adult life, in this digital, demanding and fast paced world. At one point the story moves away from The Beard alone and everyone has a bad hair day – a day of chaos and disappointment. And this wasn’t simply an attempt to trivialize the concerns of teenagers it was a symbol that brought us all in.

The house was full and that certain kind of lively buzz form a primarily youth audience was matched and controlled by an even flow of energy and commitment in the company’s performance. The pace was snappy and well-choreographed. The scene changes were a dance of chairs, desks, and shadow puppet screens. I particularly enjoyed the musical aspects of the play – the choral singing arranged by Verity Standen. This lent a touch of spooky, a touch of the ancient chorus that enriched the idea of this being a piece about larger mystical forces playing with ordinary people.

What I came away with was how well the many complex ideas had been orchestrated and how generously the ensemble had worked together to pull this off. The director, Stephanie Kempson, has worked some magic here. All the cast members of this show now have a very solid grounding for professional theatre training.

I think the moment I most enjoyed was hearing beautiful youthful voices singing the most banal of songs while unfortunate ‘Dave’, in early gross beard stage, did a heartfelt but weird little dance in a desperate attempt to tell himself ‘this isn’t happening to me, please!’. I really enjoyed it.   ★★★★☆   Vicky Vatcher   7/1/15