Imaginate Children’s International Theatre Festival, Edinburgh
Church Hill Theatre Studio, until tomorrow
Seen at Dance Base, ends today;
then at Paisley Arts Centre, May 14
Mise – Story Of A Girl
Seen at Church Hill Theatre Studio, run ended
Reviewed by Mark Brown
Of the numerous theatre festivals which take place in Scotland, I have to declare a particular affection for the annual Imaginate Children’s International Theatre Festival in Edinburgh. No other programme, not even the prestigious Edinburgh International Festival, can equal director Tony Reekie’s event for consistency of quality, imagination in programming or the sheer joyousness of its audiences.
One of the great things about Imaginate is that it allows children (and adults) in Scotland to measure our often impressive home-grown children’s theatre against some of the best from continental Europe and beyond. Wanted: Rabbit, by Dutch company Maas theater en dans, is, surely, among the finest theatre work for kids aged three to five.
Towering over a fabulous, monochrome cardboard city, three life-sized police officers swear the audience to secrecy as we are engaged in the search for a runaway rabbit, recently escaped from the police station. The flop-eared escapee is creating havoc by stealing carrots, nibbling through TV cables and pooing everywhere.
The miniaturised adventure which follows exposes the officers as cops of the Keystone variety, and involves hilarious mini car chases (complete with “nee-naw” sound effects), police disguised as tulips and some high level poo tasting. The show becomes increasingly madcap and side-splitting as the scale of the bunny problem grows at a rate similar to rabbits’ famous procreative prodigiousness. Surreal and wonderfully off its head, Wanted: Rabbit boasts the funniest Dutch cops since Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse’s Amsterdam police.
Also from The Netherlands is Alles (All), an exceptional dance-theatre piece for children aged four to seven by Het Lab Utrecht. Performed by the dynamic duo of Angela Peris Alcantud and Koldo Arostegui, it is a gorgeously liberated, wonderfully humorous work. Shot through with 20th-century artistic influences, it is like a great collision between the sounds and movements of jazz, the paintings of Jackson Pollock and the illustrations of Quentin Blake.
The show combines excellent play with sound (from cheek popping to finger clicking), song and language with splendidly accomplished movement. The dance ranges from invigorating, sweeping movements to brilliantly executed, Chaplinesque comic turns.
Impressively complex, yet deceptively simple, Alles ends with a ‘don’t try this at home’ moment of (non-toxic) paint play (think Van Gogh does Tiswas) which had Wednesday afternoon’s audience of nursery school children in fits of infectious laughter.
Equally infectious, this time in charm, is Mise – Story Of A Girl, by Galway-based company Branar. A puppet show for children aged six and upwards, with an exquisitely delicate aesthetic, it takes us into the head of its insomniac protagonist, a little girl called Mise (pronounced Mee-shay).
Unable to sleep, Mise (represented by a beautifully crafted, delightfully manipulated puppet) tries to rid herself of the metaphorical cloud over her head by going off on a series of imaginative little adventures. Donning her pink dress, she imagines that she is the clockwork ballerina who dances inside her jewellery box (although her efforts to tidy the dress away in a cupboard are undone, hilariously, by a door which springs open repeatedly). A later foray into magic, complete with a flying carpet, is similarly lovely.
The piece boasts an abundance of smart little touches, from Mise wearing a lampshade as a magician’s hat to her using a tiny torch to perform shadow puppetry under a bed sheet. Accompanied by charming live music (played on an array of instruments, including harp, flute and xylophone) and equally elegant projected images (of, for instance, the town going to sleep, house by darkened house), Mise is a technically impressive, artistically seductive reminder of just how good puppet theatre can be.
A slightly abridged version of these reviews was originally published in the Sunday Herald on May 12, 2013
© Mark Brown