Derived, doubtless, from the idea of Edwin Abbott’s 1884 story Flatland about a two-dimensional country visited by someone three-dimensional, Dani Parr’s production is described as “the biggest playmat you will ever see”. Taking the (virtual) 22 bus from the theatre foyer, parties – at various performances Early Years, all ages (both with families) and on Friday night teens and adults only – arrive in a boarded-over Derngate auditorium where bank, general store, hospital, newspaper-publisher, café plus sound and fashion emporia lie on the ground.
Until former inhabitant Kate arrives and, with audience assistance, Flathampton goes 3D. For the next hour or more, young people have the chance to open a bank account, publish a newspaper (and broadcast the weather) cure or be cured with chocolate pills, real bandages and thankfully fake syringes, paint then eati biscuits, groove along as a DJ and have a makeover.
The idea of interaction in a shared city is an important aspect of a piece that also puts ‘play’ at the heart of playgoing. Starting in groups dropped-off at various points, the crowd is soon investigating freely the opportunities the town offers, a hymn to urban variety including, on Friday, one lad with added crown and foxtail, and a girl who’d determined a stethoscope the perfect adornment to a bridal outfit.
Finally, a big party’s thrown for Kate, who made all this possible, as her junk-shop’s reopened and she resolves to stay on. It’s a culminating celebration of a piece where the interaction’s as important between the young people enjoying and sharing a space as it is between them and the characters.
Though the teen/adult version (developed with Tamsyn Payne) follows the same layout and activities, it all turns into a party. The café discovers cocktails, Jeff’s General Store becomes a house of games and the fashion shop sprouts a catwalk, paraded by many a dressed-up visitor.
People enjoyed being part of a shared enjoyment rather than making new friends, with enough to keep them happy over two hours. Even then there were those who would clearly have been glad to have missed the last bus home.