First published in The Times, Tuesday October 6 2015
Over the past two decades, Shona Reppe has built a reputation as one of the leading purveyors of theatre for children and families, both at home in Scotland and internationally. In recent years she has fine-tuned her inventive, offbeat approach to storytelling in shows such as Potato Needs a Bath, in which a group of anthropomorphised vegetables and fruit get ready for a party, and Huff (created with Andy Manley), an ingenious art installation that reimagined the story of the Three Little Pigs as a CSI-style crime scene.
Her latest work, produced by Catherine Wheels Theatre Company, delivers the same winning blend of story, meticulous design detail and perfectly pitched humour. Our host for the evening is the eponymous Sho, a successful, if rather conceited, magician, who “never misses a trick”, touring the world performing feats of illusion in the company of her sidekick, Rabbit. Once upon a time, Rabbit and Sho made a formidable double act, but their relationship has become as frayed as the poor bunny’s fur. Tired of being pulled out of hats and being forced to stick his head in guillotines, Rabbit performs his own disappearing trick, leaving Sho alone and bereft.
As with all the best children’s theatre, Magic Sho works on a variety of levels. The magic routines and sleight-of-hand are slickly choreographed, set to the kind of muzak that used to accompany the conveyor belt of prizes on The Generation Game. Reppe shows off her versatility, performing an array of close-hand tricks as well as an inspired robot dance pastiche to the strains of Kraftwerk.
While there are visual gags aplenty, including the moment when Sho insouciantly uses Rabbit to clean her boots, the piece contains an equally involving strain of melancholy. The sequence in which Reppe employs containers of various shapes and sizes to catch drips from a leaking roof is as moving as it is visually impressive.
The show engages hugely on the level of character, too, with Reppe giving a witty, credible performance as the self-satisfied magician who gets taken down a peg or two, while Rabbit, with his missing tail and gentle Alan Bennett voice, is yet another example of Reppe’s gift for creating three-dimensional characters out of inanimate objects. It doesn’t take long for the performer to draw her young audience into the story. Indeed, one of the show’s main pleasures lies in watching the kids engage wholeheartedly with the action.
Touring to November 29; catherinewheels.co.uk