Reviews: Imaginate Festival 2016

First published in The Times, Wednesday June 1 2016

The Story of the Little Gentleman: Four Stars

Tales of a Grandson: Four Stars


It must be that time of year again. Sunlight is streaming into the grand gallery at the National Museum of Scotland. Storytelling events, workshops and even a puppet-led yoga class are taking place in various corners of the building. At one end of the foyer a band is just striking up for the latest in a series of gigs for families entitled Sprog Rock! Clearly, the annual Imaginate festival of performance for children and young people is well underway.

As ever, the festival is being staged in venues across the capital, from the Southside Community Centre to North Edinburgh Arts, with the museum a central hub of activity. Up on the fourth floor, the cushions and benches have been set out for a revival of The Story of the Little Gentleman, a tale of loneliness and friendship from the acclaimed Catherine Wheels company, adapted from a picture book by Barbro Lindgren, the Swedish author.


Pic: Jassy Earl

Pete Collins gives an endearing, wide-eyed performance as the dapper traveller, whom we first meet emerging from a giant packing case. His attempts to make friends in his new home come to nothing, however, and he’s soon reduced to drawing smiley faces on balloons for company. When noisy fun arrives in the form of a hyperactive, affectionate pooch (Isabelle Joss), the pair shares an ice cream and bonds over kite flying and games of catch.


The 45-minute show, aimed at kids aged 4-8, while sweet and energetic, also features a couple of bold switches into a more sorrowful register. A measure of how deeply the young audience is invested in these characters comes when the capricious doggy appears to transfer her affections to a little girl. You can hear a flurry of little voices urging Joss back towards a despondent Collins. The show’s messages are well pitched by Gill Robertson, the director, and the performers, in a production with handsome design by Karen Tennent.


In a room downstairs, meanwhile, the master storyteller Andy Cannon condenses his epic trilogy Tales of a Grandson into a single sitting. Squeezing centuries of Scottish history into an hour may sound a tall order, but Cannon, as always, makes light work of his material with a warm, engaging performance, backed up by Wendy Weatherby’s exuberant cello soundtrack.


Pic: Brian Hartley

The show takes a nostalgic look back at the performer’s childhood, and a visit to his grandparents that inspired a lifelong fascination with the past. Alongside references to the People’s Friend and Tunnock’s teacakes, Cannon recreates landmark events with the aid of clothes pegs, tablecloths and a tea cosy. It may lack the expansive sweep of the three-parter, but it remains an engrossing, entertaining introduction to Scottish history’s greatest hits.


Box office: 0131 228 1404. Both shows run to June 5.

Author: Allan Radcliffe

I am a writer, freelance journalist, subeditor and theatre critic, based in South Queensferry. My short fiction has been published in anthologies such as Out There, Elsewhere, The Best Gay Short Stories, ImagiNation, Markings, Gutter, New Writing Scotland and Celtic View. I have won the Scottish Book Trust's New Writer's Award and several of my stories have been adapted for broadcast on BBC Radio 4. As a journalist I write regularly for The Times, the Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday, Sunday Herald, Sunday Times, Metro, Big Issue and I was formerly assistant editor of The List magazine.

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