Review: The 306: Day – Station Hotel, Perth

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First published in The Times, Tuesday May 16 2017

Four Stars

When, a year ago, the National Theatre of Scotland unveiled the first instalment in its proposed trilogy of plays addressing the forgotten voices of World War I, the company effectively created a bespoke theatre space in a vast barn on a Perthshire farm. This follow-up, again written by the playwright Olivier Emanuel, with music by Gareth Williams, shifts the focus from a trio of men shot for cowardice or desertion during the Great War to women munitions workers, pacifists and suffragettes. The production, directed by Jemima Levick, has a stripped-back, intimate feel, and is being toured around smaller venues the length and breadth of Scotland.

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Review: The 306: Dawn – Dalcrue Farm, Perthshire

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First published in The Times, Wednesday June 1 2016

Three Stars

 

Since its inauguration a decade ago, the National Theatre of Scotland has staged work in a number of remarkable places, including pubs, a swimming pool and Edinburgh International Airport. The latest production is perhaps its most adventurous undertaking yet. Audiences are bussed from Perth Concert Hall to an ambitiously reconfigured barn in a field in nearby Pitcairngreen. This is the immersive setting for Oliver Emanuel’s haunting play about three soldiers who were shot for cowardice during the First World War.

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Review: Dragon – Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh International Festival

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First published in The Times, Wednesday August 19 2015

Four Stars

Dragons are everywhere in popular culture at present, but the emotional landscape depicted in this Scottish/Chinese co-production is worlds away from the high fantasy territory of Tolkien or Game of Thrones. Oliver Emanuel’s play for ages nine and upwards, staged by the Glasgow-based company Vox Motus in association with the National Theatre of Scotland and the Tianjin People’s Art Theatre of China, features the sense of adventure, pace and visual humour you expect from the best popular entertainment. Yet, in its depiction of the grief suffered by a young boy at the death of his mother, it is remarkably unflinching.

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Reviews: The Lost Things – Southside Centre, Edinburgh; Hup – North Edinburgh Arts Centre

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First published in The Times, Saturday May 16 2015

The Lost Things: Four Stars

Hup: Four Stars

The new piece of immersive theatre from Edinburgh based company Tortoise in a Nutshell takes place inside a domed tent pitched in the main hall of the city’s Southside community centre. Like Dr Who’s TARDIS the structure looks inauspicious from the outside but seems to expand in every direction the moment we enter and take our places at either side of the performance area.

The play, written by Oliver Emanuel and premiering at this year’s Imaginate festival of theatre for children and young people, tells the story of a young boy (performed by Alex Bird) who runs away and finds himself in an otherworld of lost things. Negotiating this obstacle course of keys, coins, watches and rings he meets a girl (Arran Howie), who’s searching through the rubble for her absent father. Though the action takes place in every corner of the space, it switches throughout between life-size and miniature, with a pair of wonderfully expressive, lantern-faced puppets, taking over from the human leads.

Tortoise in a Nutshell and Oliver Emanuel present The Lost Things image eoin carey 3

Pic: Eoin Carey

As in the same writer’s Dragon, which dealt with a boy’s shocked reaction to the death of his mother, Emanuel’s almost wordless script doesn’t flinch from showing the ways in which young people make sense of a confusing adult world. There are a handful of brilliantly staged visual set pieces, including the scene in which a robot comes to life and rampages through the tent. Yet the show, directed by Ross MacKay, is at its best in its more intimate moments, thanks to affecting characterisations from Bird and Howie and a score by Jim Harbourne that adds further emotional texture to the scenario.

Imaginate continues at the other end of the capital, meanwhile, with a lovely interactive piece aimed at children of pre-school age. Created by Starcatchers in collaboration with members of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the show fuses music and visual theatre in its story of an adventurous racoon (Hazel Darwin-Edwards) that encounters a trio of string players in a forest and attempts to inveigle them and the audience into joining in her games.

Starcatchers & RSNO present Hup image Solen Collet 10

Pic: Solen Collet

One of the greatest pleasures of Xana Marwick’s show lies in watching the varying reactions of the young audience as the live music, composed by Abigail Sinar, moves between moods that range from playful to romantic, and the performers dress up and initiate games of hide and seek and pin the tail on the donkey. Inevitably, some of the kids take longer to immerse themselves in the action than others, but the final invitation to shuffle forward and play with props such as cushions, cones, funny glasses and pieces of fur and fluff is met with unabashed enthusiasm.

The Lost Things tours to Platform, Easterhouse, May 18 (tortoiseinanutshell.com); Hup is touring Scotland to July 4 (starcatchers.org.uk)