First published in The Times, Thursday May 16 2019
The wonders of the title may be small in size, but the themes underpinning Punchdrunk’s show are hardly insignificant. Memory and the imagination, old age and loss are the heavyweight subjects explored in the one-hour promenade piece, albeit engagingly pitched at children of primary school age (and their grown-ups).
At first glance the setting seems inauspicious: a corner unit of a small industrial estate. In common with many of the shows opening across Edinburgh as part of the International Children’s Festival, part of the excitement lies in being transported through an ordinary-looking door into a world of make-believe and wonder.
Our host is Nanny Lacey (Erin Geraghty), who conducts us into her cosy kitchen-cum-living room and urges us to gather round. While she’s delighted at all her visitors, her daughter, Bella (Sarah Akokhia), appears nonplussed. She’s clearly worried about her ailing mother and hopes to persuade her to give up her home in favour of sheltered accommodation.
The two performers tell us everything we need to know about this strained relationship through subtle looks and a few tetchy exchanges. As a child, Bella was Nanny Lacey’s partner-in-crime on an array of magical adventures, from winning the disco-dancing competition at Butlin’s to holidays in a battered static caravan. Now, Bella has given up on childish things in favour of grown-up frets and concerns, and her mother is heartbroken.
There is more going on in the opening twenty minutes of our encounter with these characters than in most full-length plays. Nanny Lacey shares her favourite stories using a series of scale models, which she refers to as her “miniatures”, inviting regular interventions from the young audience. The meticulously detailed set, designed by Kate Rigby, is almost a character in its own right, crammed with treasures gathered over a long lifetime.
The enchantment doesn’t end at Nanny’s front room, though. Without wishing to give away any secrets, the show, written by Nessah Muthy and directed by Tara Boland and Peter Higgin, keeps the surprises coming, culminating in a scene of reconciliation and acceptance that is as bold as it is moving. Muthy’s script certainly doesn’t shy away from some tough life lessons, but the overall balance of humour and poignancy is beautifully judged.