ED2012 FEATURE: ThreeWeeks Co-Editor Caro Moses and our youngest critic Cecily on shows you might want to see.
It’s only since becoming a parent that I’ve realised that there are a lot of bad children’s shows out there. But also a lot of good ones. And when they are good, it’s as entertaining for a grown-up as it is for a child. So, when my daughter Cecily (just turned five) declared that she wanted to write some reviews of Festival shows this year, I was only too happy to accompany her to what I hoped would be some of the better ones.
Generally, we got very lucky. Some kind people let us go and see some their preview shows over the last few days, and they were all pretty good. First on the list of must-book shows was ‘Andy and Mike’s… Tick Tock Time Machine’, mainly because Cecily, despite my best efforts to not let her live a life glued to the box, has become reasonably well acquainted with Cbeebies and is something of a fan of its show ‘Andy’s Wild Adventures’, of which Andy is, needless to say, the star. It would be easy, I think, for these two to rest on their laurels, having celebrity on their side, and having produced a critically well received show in Edinburgh last August; but they don’t. They work very, very hard. The children are spellbound from the start, not just by the famous Andy (Cecily was surprised to discover that he is three dimensional), but by his co-star Mike, and the intelligently devised content of the show.
If you asked me to choose a favourite from the oeuvre of children’s writer Julia Donaldson, I would unhesitatingly choose ‘The Snail And The Whale’, so it was hard to resist the opportunity to go and see the stage show of it, especially when presented by a group as well-reputed as Tall Stories. They do amazingly well to stage this set-at-sea tale in a traditional theatrical space, though the story itself forms something of a departure from what happens in the book. No matter though; if you know the book, or if you don’t, this show will be a pleasure. We loved the way the whale was formed, and the use of music throughout. Cecily wrote in her diary “I loved it. It was cool”.
Cecily also enjoyed ‘The Magician’s Daughter’ at Underbelly Bristo Square, and was extremely taken by the little girl puppet as she flew through a storm. It’s a story inspired by ‘The Tempest’, though no knowledge of that play is required (good thing, really, given the target market), and features an endearing puppet Caliban playing opposite Miranda’s daughter, played by a human being. The two storytellers perform beautifully in this, and its tranquillity is a huge contrast to the frenetic action of something like ‘Tick Tock Time Machine’. I definitely think there’s room for both of those styles in a programme aimed at children.
When it comes to very young children, though, it can be hard to get them to sit still and concentrate. Many of the toddlers attending the above shows struggled to remain engaged, and whilst I thought all three were great for a 4+ demographic, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend taking anyone much younger than that. Good news for toddler-wranglers, though: Spotlites have brought back their productions of ‘The Magic Porridge Pot’ and ‘The Enormous Turnip’, which are specifically aimed at 2-5 year olds, and in which the little ones are encouraged to take part in the action, and no-one gets cross if they wander around a bit or do the wrong thing. Spotlites also have interactive productions for older (5-12) children, ‘Merlin’s Dragon’ and ‘Peter Pan On Dinosaur Island’, which I hope we manage to also see this Fringe.
Cecily’s 2012 winner so far, though, is ‘The Elves And The Shoemaker’. She fell hook line and sinker for this show and its storyteller, for the colourful set, the tiny shoes, the funny and sometimes mildly scary puppets and, most of all, for Cornelius The Mouse, especially when he wanted to marry the cheese (Cecily is a big fan of cheese herself). “My favourite part” she wrote in her notebook, “was when a little funny looking man was dancing on the granddad’s head”. I must confess, I laughed out loud at that moment myself.
‘Andy and Mike’s… Tick Tock Time Machine’ and ‘The Snail And The Whale’ were performed at Pleasance Courtyard; ‘The Magician’s Daughter’ at Underbelly Bristo Square; ‘Merlin’s Dragon’, ‘Peter Pan On Dinosaur Island’, ‘Magic Porridge Pot’ and ‘The Enormous Turnip’ at Spotlites; and ‘The Elves and The Shoemaker’ at Scottish Storytelling Centre during Fringe 2012.