All female theatre company Haste Theatre presents Oyster Boy, an adaptation of Tim Burton’s short story of the same name. Expanding on the original story with additional characters and a lighter plot, the show takes place in an anchronistic Coney Island, where bathing suits are aplenty and Italian gelato salesmen roam the beaches. Oyster Boy follows the tale of one such salesman, Jim Gelati (Valeria Compagnoni) as he saves, falls in love with and marries Alice (Lexie McDougall) and they start a life together. When the couple eat some aphrodisiac oysters, Alice is impregnated with a strange child, and gives birth to Sam, a boy with an oyster head. Different from the other children, Alice and Jim struggle to lead a normal life while the other townsfolk sneer and shun poor Sam.
Haste Theatre show off their considerable creativity with a wide range of performance mediums. With their entire set of props housed in picnic baskets, the team effortlessly transports audiences to a briny beach and rollicking waves, complete with leaping dolphins and sinister sharks, to a campy French seafood restaurant with snooty restarauteurs (a moustachioed Jesse Dupre, camping it up with an over the top French accent), to a dubious operating theatre with inept doctors (Elly Beauman-Brinklow and Sophie Taylor) performing illegal experiments. Haste also lightens their production considerably from their original source material, changing up the original, darker ending and making Jim and Alice much more sympathetic characters, although the ending is no less melancholic and hauntingly beautiful. The team also gives Sam allies in the form of ditzy twins Polly and Molly (Jesse Dupre and Tamara Saffir), who shriek with delight when they see Sam, suggesting that perhaps not all the townsfolk share the same sentiments as their sneering mother (Sophie Taylor).
Sam himself takes the form of a puppet, with a realistic looking, oversized oyster shell head. Despite his queer appearance, Haste’s puppeteering skills breathe life into the creature, and manage to imbue him with hopes, dreams and a personality for his brief life. In the short one hour span of the play, Haste shows off their many considerable talents, from the difficult art of clowning, to even impressive gymnastic/acrobatic skills (Lexie McDougall). Their twee storyline is incredibly endearing, and both Compagnoni and McDougall share a great onstage chemistry that really lets you feel their struggle as parents. The surreal elements of the play are only increased and improved by the rest of the cast, who act as the chorus, inserting themselves in between scenes with a jaunty ukelele beat from Sophie Taylor and rhyming verse to move the narrative along, and their movement is slickly choreographed, smoothly sliding around the stage in their cheerful and very fashionable polka-dotted dresses.
Oyster Boy is proof you don’t need to be depressingly grim in order to make a successful production, and cleverly harnesses Burton’s original idea to a good effect. Haste Theatre’s earnest production brims with boundless creative energy and a clear vision that makes Oyster Boy a thoroughly delightful piece suitable for all ages, impressing with their keen sense of the theatrical and set in a timeless world. You’ll be avoiding seafood for a while after catching this play and left with an intense yearning to visit the beach. Who knows? You might just run into some characters as quirky and memorable as the ones in this production.
Oyster Boy is now on tour throughout the UK. You can find out if the production will be coming to a theatre near you here
Photo Credit: Haste Theatre