Imaginate 2: Under The Carpet, Lava, Brilliant


JOYCE MCMILLAN on IMAGINATE II: UNDER THE CARPET (Theatr Iolo at the Lyceum Studio), LAVA (Studio Orka at the Botanic Gardens), and BRILLIANT (Fevered Sleep at the North Edinburgh Arts Centre), for The Scotsman 30.5.09

Under The Carpet  4 stars ****
Lava    4 stars ****
Brilliant  2 stars **

AT A CHILDREN’S THEATRE festival, the audience is often almost as entertaining as the shows; and the younger they are, the less they are likely to be constrained by the grown-up idea that audiences are only there to watch.

Theatr Iolo of Wales’s latest show Under the Carpet, for example, at the Lyceum Studio until Monday, is actually based on stories told to the company by nursery-school children in the 3-5 age-range for which it’s designed; and from an adult point of view, the situation it describes is not too interesting.  Nonno and Lol are a kind of Vladimir and Estragon of nursery theatre, beautifully played by Stephen Hickman and Jak Poore; they have lived together for a long time, and annoy one another a bit.  But they join together in searching for the stories they find hidden around their house – in the cupboard, under the table, on the ironing board, in the button-box.  Their timing and performance style is subtly perfect, full of unobtrusive skill.  And the response of the little children to their quiet physical comedy of fallouts, surprises, and small reconciliations is simply a joy to hear; roars of laughter, little helpful comments, gasps of surprise, and deep throaty chuckles of recognition.

Lava, by Orka Studio of Belgium, is aimed at older children, around 6-10; but it, too, produces a memorably complex response.  Staged in a spartan laboratory tent in the Botanic Gardens (until Sunday), Lava features three soil scientists – a man, a woman, and their student Catherine – who are deeply disturbed by an amazing discovery they have made in the earth beneath Edinburgh.  The two senior scientists want to prod, slice, dissect and experiment; Catherine has the feeling that the little underground dwellers they have found should be treated as equals and friends.  The show makes brilliant use of fibre-optic cameras combined with film, of tiny objects, and of serious interaction between the three characters.  And at the end, the junior audience are left shaken and stirred outside the tent; full of a sense of unresolved responsibility towards a newfound group of “others” whose future, in the hands of human beings, seems scarily uncertain.

Fevered Sleep’s Brilliant, at North Edinburgh Arts until Sunday, also gets a giggly response from its 3-5 year-old audience; but partly, I fear, for the wrong reasons.  Brilliant is a show about light, which features some lovely visual effects involving mirrors, glitter-balls, rolling moons and veils of mist; but it also boasts one of the most coy and incoherent scripts I’ve ever come across in children’s theatre, all saccharine cries of “goodnight light! goodnight moon!”, repeated ad absurdum.  The look of this show is promising, in other words; but those responsible for the script need to get out more, particularly to wonderful international children’s theatre festivals, like Imaginate.


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