Go and See Fund - Us/Them

18th August 2016 at Summerhall

This production by Belgian art house BRONKS drew my attention as it deals with a topic not usually explored in children's theatre: a terrorist attack. It is based on a true story from 2004 when 1200 children, parents and teachers were taken hostage in their own school in a small town in the Caucasus. Sound like a bundle of laughs? Well actually, quite a few.

The manner in which BRONKS have dealt with this difficult tale is perfect: a chirpy and energetic performance filled with many moments of lightheartedness and comedy to carry the heavy topic. The show was performed by two people, a man and a woman, playing a boy and a girl who were at the school when the terrorists attacked. They report events in a very matter-of-fact fashion, explaining logistical details, whilst also showing their youth and playfulness through song and dance. The point of view is mainly from these two children but also encompasses the families and even attempts to give insight to the inner workings of the terrorists' minds. 

I liked the design of the show: it was quite simple and had an effective graphic style. At the start the two children chalk out the floor plan of the school, later, strings are struck up across the stage to create a confusing labyrinth which really heightens the feeling of chaos. Balloons are also used well to convey different objects and meanings from celebratory items to bombs to a lost life. 

Overall, I found the performance very moving but not overly sentimental in a soppy way. The balance between joy and sorrow, fun and danger, good and evil was well judged. The audience strongly empathised with the children's struggle to understand why these terrorists had chosen them and became immersed in the confusion. Once again, although this is a production for 12+ there was not a single person under 18 in the audience so I would be very interested to see how young audiences react to this show.



Trapped in the labyrinth. 

Trapped in the labyrinth. 

Go and See Fund - It Folds

14th August 2016 at Summerhall

This show by Brokentalkers and Junk Ensemble originally attracted me as it deals with themes of grief, loss and death whilst also being intended for younger audiences. Unfortunately I was the youngest audience member at this performance so I couldn't really grasp how it would land with children and teenagers. With me, it settled uncomfortably.

The piece took the form of several, somewhat disjointed vignettes. The first of these was blackly humorous: a man in a white sheet dressed as a ghost told the story of how he died. It doesn't sound all that funny but his Irish charm and ridiculous costume added a great deal of lightness to the tale. From there onwards we got more short insights from different characters which took the forms of storytelling, dance and physical theatre. All these people were going through some kind of emotional distress but something about the presentation left me cold and without empathy. 

The lack of connectivity between scenes and a great deal of deadpan talking straight out to the audience (even when they were supposed to be talking to each other) meant that I found it hard to follow and feel interested. There were some stunning visual snippets like a blindfolded boy swinging at a pinata and a choir of sheet ghosts singing happy birthday: these were powerful and pleasantly weird. My favourite section was probably the pantomime horse whose front and back halves disagree about where they're going. This little clowning skit was very funny but took a sharp, dark turn when it was revealed that the front and back were a husband and wife whose relationship was disintegrating after the loss of their son.

Bits like this gave me hope but overall I felt lost throughout this performance. There definitely could have been more development of the narrative so the audience could fully connect and sympathise with the characters on stage. I wanted to be involved but I felt excluded. It was definitely a bit pretentious and lacking raw emotion, however,  I was somehow mesmerised.

This folds.

This folds.

Go and See Fund - Puzzle

7th August 2016 at Zoo Pleasance

This bright and buzzing show for babies was created by Lithuanian company Dansema Dance Theatre. There was a sense of excited anticipation as the audience, young and old, entered the space: seating on three sides looked onto the stage floor where many big, soft, 3D shapes lay. Are they sculptures? Or toys perhaps? Then, the tinkling music began and slowly the shapes began to come to life. 

The performance was carried out by three talented dancers in zip up playsuits: one red, one green and one orange. These colours corresponded with the big, 3D shapes which were rolled, stacked, bounced and worn by the dancers. The way in which these shapes came together in different combinations and formations was ingenious: like a living puzzle. Each movement the dancers made was filled with joy and their playful interaction with the audience was constant throughout.

Coming from a design background, it was interesting to think how the costume and props are the crux of this show. The entire concept relies on colour, shape and movement coming together to stimulate young imaginations and it seemed to me that the babies were suitably fascinated. 

My only thought for improvement would be that the show would benefit from live music to allow for more freedom and add a little bit of human touch. I understand that this is not always possible but it felt to me like it would suit the flavour of the performance. 

In summary, the simple colour palette and shapes combined with exuberant movement created a mesmerising visual experience, somewhat like a kinetic pop art painting. For thirty minutes I was transported to babyhood, allowing myself to just sit back and enjoy the dancing colours.

Throwing some shapes.

Throwing some shapes.

Go and See Fund - Beards! Beards! Beards!

4th August 2016 at the Assembly Roxy

Beards! x 3 is an enjoyable show by the New Zealand company, Trick of the Light Theatre. The story focuses on Beatrix: a young girl who wants a beard. Luckily, her two dads are the best barbers in town so gaining some facial hair should be a cinch? Sadly not. They tell her they can only take away hair not put it in place so, as a girl, she will just have to do without a beard. Beatrix is deeply saddened by this news as she has noticed a common trend amongst successful and influential people throughout history - they all have beards!

This leads to an energetic romp through time with Wilgafortes: the flamboyant patron saint of bearded ladies. With the saint's help Beatrix visits some successful, influential and bearded men from the past to see if they can help her gain magnificent facial hair. These men, as it turns out, aren't quite as clever as Beatrix thought: they all need her help but do not offer any beard advice in return. In the end, Beatrix comes to realise that she doesn't need a beard (or to be a man) to be successful and influential but, simultaneously, if she wants to wear a fake beard then she will! (And she really rocked facial hair in my opinion)

The performance was fast paced and visually stimulating. The barber shop set was cheerful and clean with simple transformative elements which effectively changed the scene. My favourite element was probably the magic mirror: a window frame with a silver foil curtain behind which the actors did a great deal of silly dancing. Costume-wise, the barbers were pretty traditional with shirts, smart trousers and waistcoats; Beatrix wore a checked shirt, white mini skirt, red socks, red hairband and white trainers which made her seem youthful and girly but not overly so. The two male actors playing the dads were also Wilgafortes and the bearded blokes from throughout time: their characters were created through simple but effective costume changes.

The whole show was quite chaotic, but in a pleasing way. Holding it together were the chirpy and energetic songs which were sung well and with much gusto. It was surprisingly educational too as the audience were given several miniature history lessons during the beard quest. Sometimes the dialogue perhaps came a little too fast to fully absorb - even I, as a so-called adult, sometimes found myself getting swept away. There was, nevertheless, something for everyone: from a man rolling around in worms to sly jokes about political candidates with silly hair... The children and the grown-ups seemed to be chuckling in all the right places.

Ultimately, I felt really good after this performance. The strong message about girl power and the fact she had two dads won me over: this was the type of show I hoped to see in 2016.

Plus, the songs were really catchy.

Beard please.

Beard please.

Edinburgh Festival 2016

This August I was fortunate enough to see many shows in the Edinburgh Fringe and Edinburgh International Festival. Some were for adults but many were for young audiences: an area of special interest to me as I embark on my graduate quest to make a career out of children's theatre. Luckily, Imaginate - a brilliant Scottish organisation who support and develop the performing arts for children - aided me through their Go and See Fund. By applying, Imaginate funded me to see five inspiring and varied performances for young audiences. Here, in the coming blog posts, I shall do a wee write up of my thoughts on each of these shows.

Reviewing toolkit.

Reviewing toolkit.