Leon and the Place Between

Cahoots NI present 'Leon and the Place Between'.

Cahoots NI present 'Leon and the Place Between'.

The Family Hoffman emerged one by one – magically – from a small barrel organ perched in the middle of the stage. The purple smoke and the smell of damp earth created the perfect atmosphere for Cahoots NI's riotous adaptation of Leon and the Place Between. Part theatre, mostly circus, all spectacle, the show battled with the splashing rain in a circus tent in Belfast's Botanic Gardens.

The performance is based on the children's story book of the same name (by Angela McAllister, illustrated by Grahame Baker-Smith) which I had been lucky enough to discover by chance – or by magic – some time ago. It is one of those books whose illustrations are so rich and suggestive you can become immersed in them.

Cahoots NI relocates the story to the Hoffman Family Circus. To a rollicking cabaret soundscore (performed live), the Hoffmans are cajoled through their circus acts by the loud Madame Hoffman. Among their own impressive acrobats and boisterous circus acts, the Hoffmans are proud to present the magician Abdul Kazam. Brilliantly played by Mike Maloney with piercing blue eyes, skillful hands and a mesmerising presence, Abdul Kazam is the consummate conjuror. Some of the illusions he performs remain a complete mystery to me.

chair-balance.jpgWhen he calls for a volunteer to be vanished before our very eyes, the young boy Leon dramatically declares that he believes in magic and is transported to the 'place between' – the magical world to which magicians send white rabbits and coins and cards... and people. Having so far established everything in full colour and at high volume, the show falters here, as the place between does not capture the imagination of the book nor does it find an interesting alternative.

Certainly, theatre is not a children's book, and the magic which is painted upon the page is quite a different beast on stage. But having succeeded so well in evoking the atmosphere and tension of the circus, and the hypnotic power of Abdul Kazam, I was disappointed by a rather weak musical number and a very pretty curtain which composed the place between. Surely Cahoots has something else to pull out of the hat?

It is in fact a relief to return to the world of the circus. The panache of a scene like the Hoffmans' 'Death Bed Tango' is where this show really excells. Leon's story, I think, needed a more sensitive hand. If played with some of the innocence and wonder of the original book, Leon's adventure could have been the calm in the eye of the storm.

Síle Ní Bhroin is Associate Director of Graffiti Theatre Company, Cork. She has worked in Ireland and the Czech Republic as a theatre maker and teacher.

  • Review
  • Theatre

Leon and the Place Between by Angela McAllister, adapted by Paul Bosco McEneaney

29 Sept - 30 Oct, 2010

Produced by Cahoots NI
In Botanic Gardens, Belfast (on tour)

Director: Paul Bosco McEneaney

Music: Ursula Burns

Choreographer: Muirne Bloomer

Set Design: Francis Morgan

Lighting Design: James McFetridge

With: Nathan Guy, Hugh Brown, Doireann Mc Kenna, Ursula Burns, Tonynho dos Santos, Christina Nelson, Timmy Hannington, Sam Murdock, Tina Segner, Ken Fanning, and Mike Moloney.