The Tale Of Tommy O’Quire is notionally a kids’ show; the plot’s a simple one, and the delivery is uncomplicated and clear. But the best things sometimes come in the simplest packages, and there’s plenty here to enthral and entertain unaccompanied grown-ups too. The 40-minute show tells the story of the titular Tommy, who escapes from poverty by finding a treasure map – but in the process, murders its owner. Tommy seeks the treasure, battles monsters and completes his heroic quest, yet finds there’s a terrible price to be paid for his crime.
Tom Dussek’s performance hovers on the boundary between one-man theatre and storytelling, borrowing some of the best devices from both. Several characters appear and disappear as the story goes on, but delineations are clear enough that even the youngest kids should have no trouble keeping track of who’s who. It’s a truly engrossing interpretation, delivered directly to his audience with barely a pause, and – on the day I attended at least – never a stumble. It’s easy to forget you’re in a theatre at all; at one point, as he crouched on the edge of the stage to share a secret with his audience, I realised I too was leaning in to meet him.
The whole story is delivered in verse, in language that’s lyrical yet easy to follow. A couple of the rhymes may stretch the point a little – but there’s a comforting, nostalgic feel to writer Craig Jordan-Baker’s words, reminiscent both of ancient epics and the homelier tales we might have heard on our mother’s knee. The rhythm of the poetry gives the show a gentle heartbeat, and there are occasional moments of levity too; the results of Tommy’s encounters with monsters are, despite the peril, often humorous.
Bold, clever lighting creates some beautiful imagery, while simple props evoke a range of objects found on Tommy’s travels. A spoon becomes a knife, a towel serves as a beard. And the set, though seemingly simple, conceals a handful of surprises; illustrations in the background evoke Tommy’s fishing-village home, as well as the increasingly-threatening mythical landscapes his journey takes him through. There are no cheap shocks here, but there are some genuine scares for younger viewers, and some deliciously sinister moments as Tommy nears his goal – the fear and exhaustion of his epic adventure perfectly conveyed in both actions and words.
But the most truly chilling moment comes when Tommy’s guilt overtakes him, occupying his body like physical pain. The moral of the story is, of course, a simple one – that honour and friendship is worth more than gold – but there’s a genuine power and elegance in its telling. It’s a masterful new poem that deserves its place alongside the classics, and it’s a masterclass in solo performance, too. Whether or not you have kids to take along, The Tale Of Tommy O’Quire is one worth hearing.