Published in The Times, Friday February 6 2015
You know you’re getting old when the people sitting next to you in the theatre start looking younger and younger. This lively piece of dance theatre from Barrowland Ballet and Stirling’s Macrobert Arts Centre is aimed at children under the age of four, a tough demographic at the best of times, with a nerve-shredding propensity to vote with its feet (not to mention its lungs). The fact that this show manages to hold the attentions of its young audience for a full 40 minutes is testament to just how tuned in director/choreographer Natasha Gilmore and her creative team are to what fascinates young children.
The story takes the form of a voyage of discovery, in which the audience are invited to participate at regular intervals. Vince Virr is delightfully wide-eyed as the young boy who, despite his distaste for mud and fear of climbing trees, ventures into a pine forest in search of honey for his toast. He is joined on his quest by Poggle (Jade Adamson), a wood nymph with butterflies in her hair and a frock that seems a patchwork of scraps from every corner of the forest.
It’s a simple enough tale, but it is the multi-sensory nature of Gilmore’s show that makes it such a winner. The protagonists forge their own means of communication through slapping their bare bellies, stamping and clapping, which in turn leads to some joyous arm waving and bottom-waggling dance routines. Sequences in which the two friends explore the pleasures of splashing through the mud and chasing bees are made all the more infectious by Daniel’s Padden’s offbeat musical compositions (played live and recorded).
What’s also admirable about the production is that it is genuinely and fearlessly interactive, with audience members invited onstage to cover the sleeping Poggle with branches and a mid-show game of hide and seek that spills out into the auditorium. Meanwhile, the setting is evoked in Fred Pommerehn’s ingenious set design: a jigsaw puzzle composed of building blocks, each of which contains flora and fauna from the forest floor.
The performers (Virr in particular) enjoy an effortless rapport with their young audience. If some gentle, patient coaxing is required to encourage the first child onto the stage, it only requires one intrepid youngster to plunge in before the rest enthusiastically follow suit, so that, by the end, pretty much the entire audience is wandering around, exploring Poggle’s leafy habitat.
Touring to Feb 13. For further details see barrowlandballet.co.uk