Review: The Little Pony
Image: Cervantes Theatre
Daniel and Irene try to confront the brutal school bullying that Timmy is subjected to.
A school that protects its bullies and a couple that tries to do the best for their child will witness how Timmy escapes to an imaginary universe to protect himself from the insufferable reality.
'I once read the news on Gryson Bruce, a 9-year-old boy from North Carolina, who in 2014 suffered several physical and verbal attacks as a result of carrying a My Little Pony backpack.
He was forbidden to bring the backpack to the school and I couldn't believe it.
What is better to follow the views of the majority or to defend your own child's freedom of choice?' - Paco Bezerra.
The first thing that is immediately obvious when stepping into the theatre for The Little Pony is just how pink the set is.
Set of The Little Pony - photo by Elena Molina
Apart from a photo in the middle of the back wall, all the elements of Alejandro Andújar's design are pink.
Striking though it is, the underlying message or metaphor behind it is not quite so easy to decode - but let's return to that later.
Paco Bezerra's thought-provoking play is about lots of unsettling and disquieting issues which get intertwined in what starts out as a deceptively simple issue that turns into something far more complex and far more tragic.
The play is based on real-life cases, one of which involved a nine year-old boy banned from taking his 'My Little Pony' backpack to school.
Daniel and Irene seem a happy and contented couple as we discover them winding down at the end of the day.
But their domestic bliss is about to undergo a severe and brutal shock as they discover their son's school wants to see them.
Their son, Timmy, is being bullied because of the design on his backpack and the authorities want him to sop bringing it to school.
Instead of adopting a united front about the matter, the two parents are set against each other.
Paul Albertson (Daniel) and Rachel Sanders (Irene) - photo by Elena Molina
Rachel Sanders' Irene feels her son should not use the backpack in order to 'fit in' at school, whereas Paul Albertson's taxi-driver dad thinks his son should be allowed to use whatever backpack he wants to.
But outside of the discussion in the family home, the whole matter quickly escalates as childish, verbal taunts at school develop into more violent acts of bullying that result in damaging physical and psychological effects on Timmy.
Paula Paz's worthy and considered production starts off in a suitably relaxed manner, but she quickly ramps up the tension, inciting commendable work from both actors.
But some minor irritations surface along the way too.
On occasion, the dialogue felt a touch unnatural and one of the facts - like the number of children Timmy identifies as having bullied him - seemed exaggerated and thus unbelievable.
We also hear nothing about wider support for the family from other parents or through social media, which seems something of an oversight given the proclivities of the modern internet community.
This is clearly a play about the continuing nastiness of unacceptable bullying found not only in schools but at work and in other social scenarios.
But the play is also about personal identity and how social norms and conventions impinge on individual lives and freedoms.
So what about the pink set?
To be frank, I'm still undecided about it, and that may just be the point - to make it deliberately and obviously ambiguous.
But the significance of the set is certainly more subtle than simply its colour - take a look at the image above again and you'll notice it is entirely enclosed, shut-off from the audience in a box-like configuration.
It's almost a cocoon or bubble, defined outside society and setting the family and its constituent individuals apart from the community as a whole, contrasting personal preferences with societal norms.
Though a rule-based framework for our social existence is obviously important in some areas - like the agreement that we all drive on the same side of the road to avoid accidents - what this piece shows is that we need to be ever watchful to ensure personal identity and freedoms are allowed to flourish within our communities.
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