Back in 2002, Spike Jonze made a famous ad for IKEA. We see a woman throwing out her old desk lamp, which she dumps on the pavement outside her apartment. Night falls and it begins to rain. The lamp looks forlorn and abandoned. Through the window, in the warm, we see the woman admiring her new lamp.
It's all very poignant. Then a strange Swedish man appears on the street, soaking wet, and says: "Many of you feel bad for this lamp. That is because you're crazy! It has no feelings! And the new one is much better!"
Men of Steel's anarchic and inventive children's show Hard Rubbish is almost a direct answer to the strange Swedish man. This abandoned furniture does have feelings. All sorts of feelings.
The lights come up on a pile of discarded household rubbish: old armchairs, cupboards, a pink rocking horse, a filthy washing machine. It's clear from the beginning that these objects have a mysterious life of their own: toilet brushes are pirates hunting treasure, lampshades become strange jellyfish descending carnivorously on the heads of the audience.
But when they encounter a sleek, white chest of drawers from an unnamed Swedish furniture company, the battle between the old and the new is royally joined.
Under Ian Pidd's direction, Men of Steel's animation is a short step from children's play, the most direct kind of puppetry. Hamish Fletcher, Jared Lewis, Phillip McInnes, Tamara Rewse, Sam Routledge and Malia Walsh move and voice the objects just as children do, their bodies becoming part of their characterisations. There are no invisible black-light animators here.
Their rough-and-ready style suits their story, which is about the forgotten, the misshapen, the damaged and the rejected. Perfection in this world is brutal: the white cupboard methodically goes about destroying the polyglot characters who loaf good-naturedly about the stage.
It's merciless, one by one vanquishing the scruffs. The derelict washing machine is strung up in the rafters, and the rocking horse's BFF – a baby wooden cupboard – is transformed into a small replica of Swedish cleanliness.
The subtext of a cold, corporatised world that cruelly sidelines the poor, the old, the strange and the humble is very clear, and there were moments when I wondered if some young children might find it a bit difficult to watch.
The human gift for anthropomorphising objects can be powerful as well as ambiguous, and not just for children. The company doesn't step back from darkness, although the show is always leavened by humour.
Fortunately, when the ancient armchair expires after heroically defying the new white overlords, the remaining junk decides it's time to get even. All hell breaks loose in a glorious explosion of stage anarchy (at this point, the always-responsive audience has a real chance to get involved in the action). And justice, more or less, is done.
Most of all, Hard Rubbish is fun: a mixture of mayhem and poignancy, satire and pure, playful invention. A definite school holiday recommendation, with rewards for adults as well as kids.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk