If your memory stretches as far as mine, you’ll know that the phrase “oofle dust” originated from puppet magician Sooty and his mischievous co-star Sweep, the plush and squeaky pair who first appeared on television in 1955 and informed more than one generation’s childhood.
But for those born post ’92, when the show went off-air, Oofle Dust has been reinvented as a new kind of magic.
Founded by Brit-actor-of-the-moment George MacKay and his actress friend Freya Mavor (Skins), whom he met while filming Proclaimers jukebox musical Sunshine on Leith, Oofle Dust is an occasional night showcasing new and original writing in all forms. Championing poetry, plays, spoken word, storytelling, interpretive dance, music and more, for its latest outing an 80-strong crowd gathered at The Vaults in Waterloo, south London. If you haven’t visited, the arts space is an impressive, catacombs-style venue, situated in an apocalyptic converted railway arch, making it the perfect setting for a night of experimental theatrics.
Launched at a pub in Kentish Town, north London five years ago, Oofle Dust has since transformed into a omni-directional celebration of writing and performing talent. Kicking off the latest, March edition, MacKay and Mavor’s self-effacing introduction opened the evening to laughter and whoops.
Standout moments included a thought-provoking speech from Extinction Rebellion activist Molly Lipson, an impressive vocal crescendo from Zimbabwean mbira-player John Falsetto, and contorted choreography from dancer Sophie Brain.
So how did this night come about?
“Oofle Dust is inspired by my grandad, actually,” MacKay tells us. “At first they were just called New Writing Nights. Then we met my grandma’s best mate at her 90-something birthday party. Her kids were telling stories about my grandad, who I never met. One of them had night terrors, and this lady in her seventies was saying how she had night terrors [when she was younger]. She said that grandad used to come in when he was round the house, get a book down and brush some stuff off the page onto a pillow.
“She’d go: ‘What’s that?’ He was like: ‘It’s Oofle Dust. You’ll sleep better now.’”
MacKay smiles at the thought. “She said she always slept better after that. Then when Vaults Festival needed a name, I’d just heard that story so I thought: we’ll call it Oofle Dust.”
Aside from nailing roles in Sam Mendes’ First World War blockbuster 1917 and, more recently, Justin Wurtzel’s tough Aussie period thriller True History of the Kelly Gang, MacKay keeps fine-tuning his music skills and regularly writes poetry and prose.
It’s no surprise, then, that the 28-year-old remains committed to his spit-and-sawdust Oofle Dust night, even as his schedule gets busier and busier (he’s just back from a week in Dublin, preparing for his next acting job).
“I’m enjoying writing for myself, but it’s such a joy to hear about these artists,” he enthuses. “The point of the night is, not all of the people who perform do it for a living, and not all of them want to. But the amount of people that are sitting on work, and really good work, is amazing.”
MacKay’s writing expertise stood him in good stead, helping to shape his latest role. Kurtzel encouraged MacKay to write so he could commit further to the character of Ned Kelly. The south Londoner delivered in spades, so much so that he sprinkled his own Oofle Dust into the finished film.
“While we were finding the narration of the film, Justin would send dozens and dozens of voice notes. We soaked up so much work like Seamus Heaney, Irish poets, Australian poets, coupled with punk music, even Conor McGregor,” the young leading man says of his director’s catalysing help. “So, the poems, songs, diaries, the history at the end, all those cartoons and drawings – that’s all my stuff.”
Keen to catch more Oofle Dust magic? Watch this space…