Monday night’s treat to write up for Deadbeat was an excursion to the MAC to see “…world famous, international jet setter and silver fox, Eoin Colfer and some guy, Oliver Jeffers ” talk about their new collaborative effort, children’s picture book, Imaginary Fred. I was excited to see the pair in person having been a big follower of Jeffers work for a long time and in my younger years (not terribly long ago) enjoying the writing of Colfer with the Artemis Fowl series.
The premise of the show was to essentially touch on the themes within the book by interacting with attendees through illustration and reading some prose. To outline the concept of the book, Fred is the imaginary friend of Sam, a lonely little boy who wished for him, and together, they found friendship. The story is told from Fred’s perspective and as we find out, he is used to getting dumped, but alas, not this time. Not too long into the theatre show, we discover Eoin Colfer was one of those kids with an imaginary friend, claiming he wasn’t all that good at sports, and so, created his own friends to play football with. Although as he stated in a somewhat self deprecating manner, he didn’t always get picked for his imaginary team. That play on feelings is the underlying strength to the book. Paradoxically, uplifting, at times, melancholic humour.
Eoin had his son, Sean hold the mic as “an abuse of privilege” to read some prose from Imaginary Fred. The show was particularly engaging as Oliver and Eoin played off each other so well. Colfer throwing some jovial political commentary alongside the word "bum”, had the parents and kids applauding with laughter.
Jeffers, to that end, assumed the role of, perhaps, being the butt of the jokes that Colfer took glee in lobbing at him from across the stage.
This playful piss taking led to Oliver picking up the pen and blessing the room with an awesome illustration of...a stick, and some other imaginative objects. From there, the crowd were asked to engage as Jeffers set about making assorted versions of Fred with his simple lines. There’s a knowingly naive sensibility to Jeffers work that’s pretty incredible to see. The kids called out for a French Fred, Ice Cream Fred, Gollum Fred and perhaps, best of all, Darth Vader Dog Fred. As an illustrator, of sorts, it made me realise how an uncomplicated line can, at times, do more. The thread of communication is amplified through simplicity. Jeffers reinforced this thought by saying,
You can make Fred look however you want. That’s the point. The book calls many important ideas into question here. A good friend can look like just about anyone, but what makes a good friend? Who are your good friends? And for parents, the same questions may resonate and perhaps make you recall if and why you had an imaginary friend. “ Look over there, a hipster with a flat white!! ” Colfer called out as a distraction whilst they jokingly exchanged "questions" from the audience. A further excuse for some abasement between the two creators. Closing out with " I love words! ” from Colfer and “ I love pictures! ” from Jeffers, the pair hugged it out and said goodnight.
In summation, the show’s format was probably better for the older lover of the two gents work, as one parent beside me exclaimed "It was good, but not really great for children”. Perhaps a McDonald's on the way home will fix that, eh?
I’d say it was a decent mix, albeit, a little short but holding the attention span of a room full of excited 4-10 year olds would probably be quite a headache inducing task so, fair play. The level of engagement is the crux of such a show and I was thoroughly entertained.
Check out Imaginary Fred by clicking through here to purchase, or head to any major book store. Oliver Jeffers new exhibition of “grown-up” work, “Measuring Land & Sea” opens at The Lazarides Gallery, London, 20th November.
Thanks for reading.