CHILDREN’S THEATRE REVIEWS
Seen at Perth Concert Hall;
touring until June 4
Seen at Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock;
touring until June 17
Reviewed by Mark Brown
The Edinburgh International Children’s Festival has long made a very strong claim to being Scotland’s most consistently impressive theatre and performance festival. It brings together work by Scotland’s small, but increasingly excellent, children’s theatre sector with productions from across Europe and beyond.
In addition to the Festival itself (which plays at various venues in Edinburgh between May 27 and June 4), a number of productions from the programme tour venues throughout Scotland. One such is Night Light, a beautiful Festival commission for children aged three to six by leading Scotland-based artist Andy Manley and acclaimed Danish company Teater Refleksion.
A one-man show directed by Bjarne Sandborg and performed by Manley himself, this is a delicate and delightful work of object theatre. Mr Night (a cross between Wee Willie Winkie and God) is looking over the city, making sure that everyone is going to bed.
The people live in a variety of charming pieces of miniature furniture, which are splendidly designed by Mariann Aagaard. A baby cries from within a chest of drawers. Cutlery hangs, somewhat surreally, inside the body of a grandfather clock.
As Mr Night blows out the last of the city’s electric lights, one child still cannot get to sleep. Reluctantly, the benign dictator agrees to give the little insomniac a tour of the city at night.
The gorgeously intricate set comes to life courtesy of the fabulous technical work of Morten Meilvang Laursen. Meanwhile Manley’s gentle and engaging performance is enhanced by a lovely use of sound and music.
The only criticism one might make of Night Light is that, like most Scottish children’s theatre for pre-school children, it lacks an interactive dimension. This is problematic for some three-year-olds, I suspect; although Manley can’t be held responsible for the adults who brought restless children younger than three to the Perth performance I attended.
There is some, limited interaction in MamaBabaMe, the latest performance piece (for children aged 18 months to three years) from Scottish pre-school theatre specialists Starcatchers and Edinburgh-based physical theatre outfit Curious Seed.
The very young audience, and their accompanying adults, are arranged around the outside of a padded circle. A cellist (who provides the live dimension of the sumptuous musical score) reveals two performers (Nerea Gurrutxaga and Hannah Venet) who swirl around the space in an affectionate, tactile journey of mutual discovery. Innocent and enchanting, the choreography (by director Christine Devaney and the cast) is a deliciously stylised representation of the relationship between mother and newborn.
Gurrutxaga and Venet display tremendous physical dexterity as they express the play of babies at the crawling stage. As they do so, cellist Robin Mason plays a suitably evocative tune, while singing simple, descriptive lines, such as “upside down” and “roly poly”.
The performers then find their feet, appearing like marionettes as they begin to toddle tentatively. A sheet is put to various uses, including in a tug-of-war and, after much wrapping (and to the delight of some in the young audience), as a nappy.
The piece is brilliantly conceived, wonderfully choreographed and beautifully performed. However, its interactive element doesn’t really come into its own until the end, and some little audience members were, understandably, showing signs of distraction some way short of the show’s 45 minutes.
Impressive though the piece is in many ways, I can’t help but observe (again) that Scotland’s makers of theatre for the very young could learn a thing or two about interactivity from the great London-based children’s theatre company Oily Cart.
For tour details for Night Light, and the entire Festival programme, visit: imaginate.org.uk
For tour details for MamaBabaMe, visit: starcatchers.org.uk
These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on May 21, 2017
© Mark Brown