Egg

Cahoots ovular production is fun, silly and surprisingly poignant

Birds twitter, kids witter and three-newly hatched chicks/actors lie snugly, three-quarters submerged in the circular dais that makes the centre-piece of Cahoots Theatre Company's ovular extravaganza, Egg, at the Island Arts Centre in Lisburn. 

A mellifluous 'plinky plonk' soundtrack of nature's own house band eases the audience into the leafy, lofty world of these fledgling birds. We follow them then as they make their first tentative life steps and eventually take wing for the big, scary world beyond the nest.

Adapted and directed by Cahoots' conjurer-in-chief, Paul McEneaney, from a picture book by Alex Higlett, Egg is an excellent study in the universality of physical theatre, slapstick and facial contortion. Hugh Brown, Jude Quinn and Darren Franklin play the pigeon-toed hatchlings with a lovely, clumsy, wide-eyed sense of fun.

Each little physical task is performed tentatively yet tenaciously, and the heightened sense of exploration and wonder is not lost on the more diminutive punters in the audience. These erstwhile egg dwellers take a delight and make a game of everything new, from worm-catching, to avoiding predators, to making their first cup of tea (or is it Mellow Birds?), to eventually flapping off into the unknown.

The nest is a wonderfully rendered wooden box of tricks, with knotted panels, holes and crevices revealing wriggling worms and an impressive assortment of must-have accessories for the aspiring avian. The upright, protective boughs also offers a sense of containment and safety for the young birds, who play and preen within.

The old Cahoots magic is strongly prevalent. It is there in the neat tricksiness of some beautifully managed set pieces, and also in the cartoon-fantasy synthesis of noise, exaggerated movement and face-pulling. Egg is as compelling and enjoyable for parents as it is for youngsters.

Of course, each experience is another salient life lesson for our ingénue egrets. The protective bubble of the nest is punctured sporadically with the menace of predatory squawks. Nature isn't exactly red in tooth and claw in this show for four-year-olds, but there's still a fine line between preparing lunch and being lunch. Egg is a jolly but not altogether saccharine confection.

The flying goggles and duffle coats that comprise the chicks' flight suits are a lovely affectation. As each eventually flies the nest, there's a real combination of poignancy and trepidation as they flap off into a new chapter. It's an apt lesson for the rapt children here. They, however, have a few years before donning duffle coats and flying goggles to leave the comfort of family life.

There's a silly and oddly moving scene with a brand new egg being made to literally feel at home in the nest. It is poetic yet memorably daft, and is one of many moments in Egg which demonstrate just how children's theatre doesn't necessarily have to condescend or patronise.

And, like the best kids' TV from the early 80s – or so we 30-somethings smugly contend – Egg is informative, entertaining and just a little bit deliciously unsettling.

With a warmth, humour and restless inventiveness that gilds the gizzards of old buzzards and spring chickens alike, this is one Egg that deserves to run and run.

Check out CultureNorthernIreland's What's On guide for more details on where to see Egg.