JOYCE MCMILLAN on IMAGINATE CHILDREN’S THEATRE FESTIVAL: MY HOUSE and PARACHUTISTS at North Edinburgh Arts Centre, and THE WOLF AND THE GOAT at the Lyceum Studio, for The Scotsman 29.5.08
My House 4 stars ****
Parachutists 3 stars ***
The Wolf And The Goat 2 stars **
SCOTLAND has been investing heavily in children’s theatre in recent years; and now, the investment is beginning to tell. Half a decade ago, it would have difficult to imagine a children’s festival in which work made in Scotland would consistently equal or outshine the international shows on view. But with internationally acclaimed shows such as TAG’s magnificent Yellow Moon and Catherine Wheels’ beautiful Lion Of Kabul leading the programme at this year’s Imaginate Children’s Theatre Festival, the reversal of fortunes seems almost complete; and now here comes Andy Manley’s beautiful new toddler show Our House, to add a final touch to the picture.
Manley’s show is aimed at children of two or three, but it seems ideal for tots even younger than that, children just on the brink of the magical realisation that images in books or pictures correspond to real things in the world. In a bright-red bobble hat, Manley explores the pages of a little book that’s lying on the floor, and of a big book that makes up the set; and how the images interact with the real world. The show lasts just half an hour, but its atmosphere of exploration, wonder and recognition is enthralling; and to judge by the excited response of some of the 18-month-olds in the front row, it hit their tiny, blossoming imaginations in exactly the right spot.
Mala Scena of Croatia’s Parachutists, by contrast, is a much more uneven show for children aged between three and five, which creates problems for itself by choosing the wrong title; to the children’s disappointment, it fails to feature even a toy parachute, never mind a full-blown one. Its brochure description – a story about life’s ups and downs – fits this engaging piece of physical theatre much better, capturing the sense of invention and playfulness with which dancer-performer-acrobats Larisa Lipovac and Damir Klemenic use physical movement to explore the ups and downs of friendship; although the company still struggles to find enough clear and eloquent physical material to fill the middle section of this 45 minute-show.
And the Italian show The Wolf And The Goat – playing at the Lyceum Studio before a short Scottish tour – also suffers from too little material. Staged by the Compagnia Radisio of Parma, the show is a simple, open-ended political allegory about how people who see themselves as natural enemies might think differently, if they met where their defences were down. But the company’s efforts to spin this ten-minute idea out to 50 minutes are excruciating in their meandering slowness; and despite two charming performances, and a beautiful setting in a little grove of fairy-lit trees, the show is far too languidly ironic, and far too flirtatiously preoccupied with its own sexual subtext, to be remotely interesting to its recommended 6-plus audience, who tend to treat such whimsical adult stuff with well-justified scorn.
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