StammerMouth Theatre’s Choo Choo! (Or… Have You Ever Thought About ****** **** *****? (Cos I Have)) begins as a cheery, almost unbearably happy story than then diverges into a moving, at times distressing narrative about intrusive thoughts. Is it okay to have intrusive thoughts? And how do you know that you won’t act on them? As the show makes clear, everyone has such thoughts from time to time, making it all the more impressive that Choo Choo! addresses such a common occurrence with nuanced specificity and without feeling the need for a heavy hand.
Sometimes playing like a corny children’s show in its presentation of happiness and joy, Choo Choo! initially wins you over with an often-inspired brand of gag-based comedy. Best friends Nye and Duncan act out scenes following imagined prompts from a radio, and the show does a good job of building itself up as a farcical comedy before nose diving into something altogether more serious (albeit retaining comedic elements that are more-or-less well placed). Some comedy also comes from the BSL interpreter, who is actively involved in the narrative in an ingenious model for accessible theatre.
The radio later takes centre stage, voicing the thoughts that Nye can’t shake and which leave him terrified of hurting those closest to him. It builds to an ending that shirks comedy almost entirely, instead featuring both Nye and Duncan at their most vulnerable as they try to come to terms with what has happened. The change in tone throughout the show is bold but perfectly balanced, capturing the unevenness and unpredictability mental health can inflict on a person and those around them. Both Nye and Duncan are brought to life with a solid mixture of tenderness and goofiness, solidifying their show as a very good lesson on how to weigh in on serious issues using comedy theatre.
An inventive, meaningful and often very funny hour of new theatre, Choo Choo! experiments with what can and cannot be thoughtfully represented onstage, and comes out largely triumphant. It is an empathetic and playful look at intrusive thoughts that feels no need to be patronising or carry any kind of moral judgement, instead placing its characters’ feelings at the heart of the narrative to deliver a soulful, moving story.