REVIEW: The Downs & Ups of Peep & Squeak (Basement Theatre)

Review by Tim George

[With a Little Imagination…]

In a large house on planet Earth(?) siblings Peep (Ravi Gurunathan) and Squeak (Katie Longbottom) get ready to step out into the big wide world in a hot air balloon. But then a mysterious dark creature kidnaps Peep and leaves him on a desert planet millions of miles away. While Squeak goes on a trek to find him, Peep is trying to make his own way home. Will they ever be together again? 

Theatre is premised on a suspension of disbelief. As an audience, we do not usually expect an immersive experience – there is always an element of imagination required to make a great theatrical experience. Devised by Katie Longbottom and Ravi Gurunathan, and directed by Sarah Gallagher, The Downs & Ups of Peep & Squeak is built on the meeting place between that suspension of disbelief and childhood fantasies. 

This play reminded me of any time when I was a child and I did not have anything to entertain myself. Suddenly pens become rocket ships, carpet turns into jungle and pillows become mountain ranges. 

The minds behind Peep & Squeak seem to be working on the same wavelength, using the artificiality of the stage and props to create an epic fantasy realm that is almost entirely in the mind’s eye. 

I was caught up in the design of the show: the set is represented by a doorway and a window, which stand in for various settings, with a number of balloons of different sizes and colours hanging around the space, to represent the cosmos that our characters have to navigate. 

There is a tactility and homemade quality to Nati Pereira’s set design which reminded me of days spent combining ordinary household items to make fantastical creatures and settings: a mountain planet is represented by egg cartons, Peep arriving on a jungle planet by green lighting and sound effects performed by Bray Jeffrey (who provides all the music and sound effects live, from the side of the stage). 

While the characters do speak, it is in a Minion-like nonsense language that turns the show into a mime performance. Peep is played by Ravi Gurunathan as a positive and high-energy child who stumbles into danger. Squeak is his polar opposite – Katie Longbottom brings a sullen lethargy to the role that provides a great comic foil to Gurunathan. 

The show should be great fun for kids – the performance I was at was mostly full of families, and they particularly enjoyed when the performers would wander through the audience. 

If I have a complaint – and this might be the effect of seeing so many shows – I wish the show was a little more ambitious in terms of its flights of fancy. We get suggestions of different settings, and there are a couple of funny supporting characters, but they are not nearly as interesting as our central duo. I could have used a few more aliens, in slightly different contexts – there are two characters who interact with our heroes through the window frame, and it felt a little repetitive. While certain elements of the production came down to the practicalities of only having two performers onstage, I left the show wishing they had nudged the audience’s imaginative capacities just a little bit further. 

That being said, I am very curious to see what this team comes up with next.

The Downs & Ups of Peep & Squeak plays Basement Theatre 20-24 April, 2021. 

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