Vinicius de Moraes, poet, musician and Brazilian diplomat, said in one of his songs that ‘when we really love we can see the child in our partner’ and it seems to me that this phrase summarises what happens when you watch Chalk About. You are hit by a wave of love so intense that you dive head-first into the universe of the young child, with all its sweetness, freedom and cruelty. This play, originally created by Christine Devaney and Leandro Kees, and here staged/performed by Devaney with Hendrik Lebon, has the power to transform us into kids again for a brief instant, and without a hint of anything patronising.
Using the stage floor like a huge blackboard, the performers – both excellent dancers and actors – start the show by creating a series of drawings in chalk, drawing the contours of their own bodies and other shapes. This alone is enough to pull us into the central idea of this work, which seems to me to be able to present concepts to children which are often taken as possible only in the world of adults.
The performers then make a list of everything that kids want to see in a show – dinosaurs, severed heads, violence, blood, Harry Potter, the Queen on a horse, etc. – And all that they do not want to see – love stories, kisses, art, fairy tales, etc. In an amazing sequence of quick movements that combine choreography and pantomime they present all the elements that kids want to see all at once, leaving us exhilarated and making us laugh out loud.
But soon we realise that this is a means to introduce us to the second part of the piece, where we will be surprised with what children supposedly would not like to see. And therein lies the magic of this piece, which manages to talk to children about life, the world, love, pain, and all those other concepts that seem to belong to the adult world.
The beauty of the construction and the manipulation of objects is absolutely touching and sweet, and what makes it all much more profound and powerful is the choice of not using any colour. Everything is white; everything is like a slate that can be scribbled and painted by the child’s imagination.
This piece is on that rare list of works in which we leave the theatre grateful that someone has created it. Citing another Brazilian artist (Jo Soares) ‘what we do not invent, does not exist.’ Thankfully, Christine Devaney and Leandro Kees invented Chalk About.