Ophaboom Theatre Company

Feature in Issue 6-2 | Summer 1994

It was in July 1991 that Geoff Beale and Howard Gayton formed Ophaboom. They met on the one-year advanced course at The Desmond Jones School of Mime.

Their first show was The Emigre, a two-hander for theatre. This was quickly followed by the street piece The Mystic. Finally, the street piece Richard III which had a cast of three.

In 1992, European touring and festivals were included onto the schedules. With a cast of eight they performed Harlequin in Disguise, A Woman’s Revenge, and Il Creduto Morto, the latter specifically with Holland in mind. The year was rounded off with a street theatre piece called Orpheus in the Underworld, which had a cast of six.

1993 was even more remarkable for them. A major European tour was mounted with a revitalised version of Richard III, adapted to a cast of four. Appearing in festivals, theatre, and in street venues, Ophaboom visited France, Italy, Germany, Denmark, Holland and Britain.

They have their own unique style, which is also solidly based on tradition. Howard describes it as ‘immediate and modern, with the philosophy of Commedia’. Using mask, live music, and acrobatics, two characters, Mr Spavento and Pedro Muscadet, and another man and woman in Richard III, set about entertaining the audience, bumbling through in their own naive way. Their success lies in their ability to apply all their skills in the art of storytelling. When abroad, their one main particular desire is to communicate with their audiences in the native language: performances have been presented in English, French, German and Italian, and in many festivals, due to the mixture of the spectators, a combination of the languages.

Ophaboom play with words in this communication, successfully achieving verbal puns in most of the languages. Geoff told me that the approach is to find a way of vocally or physically telling the story so anyone could comprehend the characters’ actions and emotions. If it fails, they would try another way. This constant striving to improve the show means that, in the true essence of street theatre, Ophaboom’s shows sometimes stop with a ‘let’s try that again!’ approach rather than just simply blundering through. One spectator said they were ‘live and alive’.

Their joint inspiration is Peter Brook and his Empty Spaces book. Another is the film The Princess Bride – something that I am finding a regular favourite as I meet different performers. Recently joined by a third member, David George from TAG Teatro of Venice, this year for Ophaboom is mainly taken with touring Richard III (because of bad debts they cannot afford to create a new show, having been turned down for funding three times – although they do promise to create Romeo & Juliet next year). This funding crisis is typical of companies such as Ophaboom as they do not fall into any particular category for funding applications. They fall outside the remits as they cross theatre and street. Howard hates the word ‘remit’ as it is ‘one of the worst words in art, almost implying hidden agendas’. Having no administrator, and being unable to pay wages even if they found one, makes it no easier. But still they go on. They are now hoping to find a commercial sponsor to fund vital things, like the tax and insurance for their newly acquired Transit van!

In the end, Ophaboom aims to keep creating original Commedia shows and performing in theatre and large-scale street venues. They want to contact new audiences, taking ‘theatre’ to the most unlikely of places to find those audiences.

One final note: they have noticed that their shows go down really well wherever there are Morris Dancers… and as for the name, it’s a visual joke on a doodle made during a tedious business seminar. A broom was drawn with a vase balancing on top of it. The vase then proceeded to fall off-the-broom – get it?

This article in the magazine

Issue 6-2
p. 18