Go and See Fund - Raw

27th August 2016 at the EICC

This dance piece by Belgian company Kabinet K was performed by children and intended for a young audience. However, it did not seem like a terribly child-friendly atmosphere as the lights went up to reveal a barren landscape: black, mostly empty, a few stones, a tin barrel, a brown mattress and a frayed fabric backdrop. The audience is plunged into this strange dystopia where children are left to fend for themselves in a threateningly bleak world.

A troupe of children scarper around the stage: one boy in a group of girls who look aged between 6 and 11 years-old. Curiously there is also a man playing an electric guitar who sits in the corner of the stage, seemingly unconnected to the children, but his presence is acknowledged a few times which is confusing. The children move in a captivating way:  their movements are wild, sometimes brutal, sometimes tender. They dance, leap, bound and tussle but also need to be held every now and again. We see a structure unfold, tasks being divided out and performed in this bizarre but functional kid society. 

Then, a man appears. A fully grown man. He seems quite hostile and a little afraid of the children. The children and the man try to sound each other out and this is represented through lots of physical contact involving a great deal of lifting and dropping. The way in which the man throws around the little girls could seem worrying to some - at times I felt a little uncomfortable. Even stranger, an older woman appears. She is less hostile but seems very cold and does not interact with the children very much. Even with the adults now here, the children still have to fend for themselves. There is a very vivid scene in which a girl smashes open tins of frankfurters with a rock: it is shocking and mesmeric to watch.

There were many things in this performance that I do not think would by thought of or risked by British theatre makers. The contact between the man and the young girls was non-threatening but I could see how some may see it as problematic. There was also a segment where one of the girls strips down to her pants and dances under a shower: this is an action of innocence and joy and absolutely non-sexual but not something I could imagine seeing in a UK production. 

Overall, I really respected the energy and edginess of the piece - it was indeed 'raw'. The choreography felt free and wild whilst also showing vulnerability, which is a difficult balance to strike. A key element was the fact that the children were not typical dance school kids; they seemed very natural and unpretentious. I had some difficulty understanding the point of the adults and why they had appeared, but perhaps I wasn't supposed to understand. The performance almost hypnotic but I found it hard to connect emotionally. I felt a barrier which prevented me from empathising with the characters, I wasn't sure what there was to empathise with, so I left with my brain feeling impressed but my heart feeling cold.

They do not have ring pull tins in dystopia.

They do not have ring pull tins in dystopia.

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.

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.