First published in The Times, Saturday May 12 2018
Eddie and the Slumber Sisters: Three Stars
Baba Yaga: Four Stars
Catherine Wheels, the leading purveyors of children’s theatre in Scotland, are drawn to subjects other companies would flinch from tackling. Their acclaimed show, The Voice Thief, drew on horror and sci-fi tropes in its depiction of patriarchal tyranny and suppression, while HUFF, created with Shona Reppe and Andy Manley, presented the Three Little Pigs’ house as a crime scene.
Their latest work for children aged nine and over, scripted by Gill Robertson and Anita Vettesse, is an equally sophisticated look at bereavement and loss, and the ways in which grief can tighten its terrible grip in the wee small hours.
Pic: Brian Hartley
At the heart of this inventive show are the Slumber Sisters (Natalie Arle-Toyne, Colette Dalai-Tchantcho and India Shaw-Smith), nocturnal trouble-shooters charged with turning children’s nightmares into dreams. Sporting the wartime threads and close-singing harmonies of the Andrews Sisters, the team undertakes its most challenging assignment yet when it is charged with helping Eddie (Chiara Sparkes), who has been suffering from night terrors following the death of her beloved, Elvis-daft grandmother.
Robertson’s production, performed on Karen Tennant’s lovingly detailed set pulls off the difficult job of immersing us in Eddie’s suddenly changed world while offering regular injections of irreverent humour. If the script feels heavy on concept and set-up at the expense of plot, with the ending a little rushed, the show is funny, warm and on the whole well pitched at its young audience.
There is plenty of darkness mixed with delicious comedy in Baba Yaga, a mouth-watering collaboration between Scotland’s Shona Reppe, Australian performer Christine Johnston and Rosemary Myers, artistic director of Australia’s Windmill Theatre Company. Starting with the Eastern European legend of the shape-changing crone, the trio spins a decidedly off-centre yarn about a sad-sack receptionist (Reppe), whose life rapidly gains colour and excitement when Baba Yaga moves into the top floor of her apartment block.
The encounters between Reppe’s mousy Vaselina and the statuesque Johnston have an almost surreal quality, with the live action layered with snatches of animation, created by Chris Edser, an array of songs and sound effects, and hilarious virtuoso sequences, such as Johnston playing two recorders simultaneously, at one point with her nose, and Reppe’s fraught conversations with her collection of Russian Dolls. The piece feels technically overstuffed at times, but it is so outrageous, bold and silly that is proves irresistible.
Both shows on tour and at the Edinburgh International Children’s Festival, May 26-June 3. Imaginate.org.uk