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.
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.
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.