“They say it’s family friendly but when I took my mum to their last one, Matt was thrusting his groin in her face for three minutes. Not that she minded.”
I shan’t name the person who shared that anecdote with me last week, because I fear I’ve embellished it somewhat. But I think it gives a good flavour of the strange tension between innocence and naughtiness that characterises Le Navet Bete’s work. In the darkest moments, there’s silliness. In the lightest, dangerous unpredictability. Always, there’s a groin.
Matt, Al, Dan, Alex and Nick first performed at the Bike Shed back in the Fringe Festival of 2011 with their production Napoleon: A Defence, in which a bunch of clowns retold the story of Napoleon’s escape from Elba. For four years, they’ve provided Plymouth Barbican’s Christmas show and brought the first of these – The Greatest Story Never Told – to the Bike Shed in the first few days of 2012. Here, amongst the dancing donkey, the attention-seeking star and the Devonian shepherds, there was a surprise. For a few moments, laughter stopped and Silent Night was sung as a baby was born. I can’t write this in a way that doesn’t make that sound awfully corny, so you’ll just have to take my word. It was good.
The company returned to present a first draft of Once Upon a Time in a Western, which has since traveled across the country. They’ve been regular supporters of the theatre (and bar…) and there generosity to other companies has made a significant contribution to the developing local theatre ecology.
More than that, they’re one of the most loved companies I’ve ever come across. Their fans adore them. When I was interviewed by John Govier on Radio Devon, he asked me more questions about Le Navet Bete than the Bike Shed. Ali Robertson, the Director of the Tobacco Factory, made sure I met one of his technicians who couldn’t wait for them to come back. Village halls snap them up, they perform in festivals and outdoor events across the Summer.
Their new show, Dick Tracy, opens tonight at Exeter Phoenix. But it’s probably already sold out. They’re that popular, that loved.