Few events in the huge cultural programme that’s running parallel to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow have been anticipated quite as eagerly as the National Theatre of Scotland’s The Tin Forest.
A mini festival in itself, it is presented in the splendid South Rotunda, one of two iconic, circular red brick buildings which (from the late 19th century forward) provided access to a series of tunnels under the River Clyde.
Director Graham McLaren has already hosted local and international community performances, musical events and debates and discussions within the rotunda. However, it is this Puppet Theatre Experience, inspired by the children’s book The Tin Forest, by Helen Ward and Wayne Anderson, which has excited the greatest artistic interest.
A promenade work, the show invites audience members into the building in groups of 10. From a tiny, black antechamber we are met by a splendidly costumed porter (inspired, perhaps, by Wes Anderson’s recent film The Grand Budapest Hotel) who ushers us into a series of charming little, early-20th century phone booths. There we are told the beginning of the story of the old man who, surrounded, by humanity’s junk, built himself a tin forest with a bird made of metal.
From there we are taken from one gorgeously detailed room to another, meeting the old man in brilliant puppet form, seeing his exploits depicted in carefully lit installations and described (why not?) by an egotistical and insincere German burlesque dancer. It would be a crime worthy of being thrown down the tunnel shafts under the rotunda to reveal the play’s end; suffice it to say that the beautiful conclusion to the tale is realised with a style and vitality which is typical of the production as a whole.
McLaren (who directs, and designs the sets and costumes) and his associate director and puppet designer Gavin Glover (the duo behind the NTS’s wonderful production of A Christmas Carol in 2011) have created another charmingly winning piece of theatre. Iain Heggie’s script is typically muscular and funny, while the cast boasts some of Scotland’s finest actors.
The only complaint one might make, as one climbs the spiral staircase to meet the aerial artists and musicians who close the show in front of a projected image of a bay in St Kilda, is that, at half-an-hour, there isn’t quite enough of this delightful puppet experience.
Until August 3. For more information, visit: nationaltheatrescotland.com
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Teleraph on July 25, 2014
© Mark Brown