Edinburgh review: Roots – Church Hill Theatre

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First published in The Times, Monday August 12 2019

Three Stars

The company 1927, known for mixing live performance with animation, is always warmly received in Edinburgh. Its debut production, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, won a clutch of awards at the Fringe in 2007. The troupe’s collaboration with Barrie Kosky on an expressionist version of Mozart’s The Magic Flute was the big hit of the 2015 Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) programme.

The European premiere of this co-production between 1927 and the EIF is a self-described “hodgepodge” of folk and fairytales, some familiar, some less so, though the company’s imprimatur is now unmistakable. Stories of talking animals, birds with magical powers and self-sacrificing royal brides are delivered with the same deadpan, ironic narration, light-touch satirical commentary and impeccable comic timing that characterised the huge international hits, The Animals and Children Took to the Streets and Golem.

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Pic: LEIGH WEBBER PHOTOGRAPHY

Highlights among this treasury of stories include the timely tale of a greedy cat that devours everything in sight and ends up floating in space, having gobbled up Mother Earth, and a new spin on the legend of Patient Griselda, in which the protagonist seems more numbed and resigned than stoically devoted. The fact that the narration for the show is provided by the friends and families of 1927 gives an appealing real world grounding to these decidedly offbeat vignettes.

 

It almost goes without saying that the show’s individual elements, from Suzanne Andrade’s wry script to Paul Barritt’s jittery, spidery animations, the cabaret-style live soundtrack and the larger-than-life performances, are meticulously realised. It is the seamless interaction between performance and design that is remarkable: audiences must work very hard to notice the joins.

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Pic: LEIGH WEBBER PHOTOGRAPHY

Perhaps inevitably, given its structure, the piece feels slighter than some of its predecessors and a little disjointed, lacking a strong narrative thread to hold all of these tales together and with the premise stretched thin at 70 minutes. The show does sit comfortably in the modest surrounds of the Church Hill Theatre, a converted church whose auditorium has something of the old-fashioned cinema about it, but you’re more likely to leave feeling tickled and heartened rather than blown away.

Box office: 0131 473 2000, to August 25 

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