Review – Susie and the Story Shredder

Dublin Fringe

Project Arts Centre

09/09/18

Originally published on The Reviews Hub

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Imagine a world without stories, a world where stories were banned by law. In the kingdom of Levitas, that is exactly the case; spoiled King Levi outlawed stories after he found it too difficult to write his own. If he couldn’t enjoy writing stories, then no-one else could either. But, of course, it is not that easy to stop a child’s imagination and so King Levi employed story destroyers to get rid of the stories written by rebellious children.

Bombinate Theatre’s Susie and the Story Shredder tells the story (Yes, the story! Thankfully King Levi’s laws don’t apply in Dublin) of one such story destroyer, Susie, and her trusty mechanical companion, Shredder. Susie is one of the kingdom’s best story destroyers; she has even created a new invention, which she can’t wait to present to the king. The show follows Susie’s story as she realises that maybe stories are not as dangerous as King Levi suggested.

Mollie Molumby and Ursula McGinn’s script is sparklingly funny, and a charming celebration of creativity. Pause for a second and think of every pun on the word ‘shred’ that you can. Done that? McGinn and Molumby have thought of at least three more.  Matthew Malone and Clodagh Mooney Duggan bring the script to life with enthusiasm, and a dash of mischief, knowing exactly when to look to the audience for a reaction and handling moments of audience interaction with skill and energy. Add to this an amusing sound design by Michael-David McKernan, an enormous and endearing Shredder designed by Johann Fitzpatrick, and some shadow puppetry from Emily Collins and Tales From the Shadows, and you have a delightful storybook world on stage.

Both silly and insightful, Susie and the Story Shredder draws the audience in, makes us laugh, and reminds us of the power of a bright imagination.

Runs until 16 September 2018 | Image: Contributed

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Review – Assisted Solo

Dublin Fringe

Project Arts Centre

09/09/18

Originally published on The Reviews Hub.

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What does it mean to be solo? (Don’t say anything about the Millennium Falcon) Does it mean acting independently, or acting completely alone, or perhaps something else entirely? Philip Connaughton’s Assisted Solo examines our relationships with independence and ageing through carefully chosen anecdotes and insightful and revealing choreography that moves between the balletic and bizarre, catching the searingly human in between.

As the show opens, Philip Connaughton, Lucia Kickham and Magali Caillet dance a repeated sequence of steps, swapping patterns with each repeat. Each dancer appears to try movements on for size, to test their range of movement and expression. This sequence lays the foundation for the work that is to follow, as the dancers break away from their regimented pattern and begin to explore solo work, sometimes dancing alone, sometimes assisted by or assisting each other. Even when only one artist is dancing on stage, however, the others are still present, changing lighting states, moving around the periphery, or even simply affecting the performance with their gaze. Even the passages that are seemingly entirely ‘solo’ are influenced by the presence of others in the space, whether those others are the audience or fellow performers.

As the choreography prompts us to consider ideas of independence, and relationships between people in common spaces and situations, Connaughton’s anecdotes and the footage he includes of his mother, who suffers from dementia, bring these considerations from the theoretical to the personal. From a story about a Popeye toy to one about dealing with his mother’s problems with constipation, the stories Connaughton tells explore the same subjects as the choreography, and draw together the pain and comedy of the situations he finds himself in as he copes with his mother’s declining health.

While this is, for the most point a moving examination of Connaughton’s experience, and broader questions of independence and interdependence, there are points at which the elements don’t entirely hold together. Though the footage of his mother demonstrates great care, and the way in which it is presented on stage does the same, there are points at which it seems somewhat detached from the movement on stage – a later addition rather than an intrinsic element woven into the fabric of the performance. This detracts a little from the insights on stage, as the video footage seems more of a prop rather than the input of a fourth performer. In a way it adds an interesting new element to the questions of independence in the piece, but perhaps not in an intentional, constructive way.

In its consideration of our interactions with each other, especially in times of need, Assisted Solo raises interesting questions, most of which appear intentional, but some of which seem incidental.

Runs until 15 September 2018 | Image: Contributed

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Review – Shhh…The Elves Are Very Shy

Botanic Gardens

07/08/18

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Elves are very shy, but if you know what to do and where to look you might be able to find evidence of elves, or even a real life elf. In Shhh…The Elves Are Very Shy, Elfologist Dr. Faye Greenwood takes to the stage to teach her audience all about elves, and perhaps even introduce a few of her elvin friends. This piece of theatre for the littlest audience members and their families is a delightful multisensory experience that is accessible to all ages.

Using four facts about elves as a structure for the performance, writer and performer Charlotte Allan brings her audience on an exploration of all things elvish. We learn that elves love red things, making and dancing, and really don’t like iron. As Allan explores each of the facts with her audience, she creates an interactive multisensory space for all of her young audience members to get involved in. Whether it is making a red dotty shape, offering suggestions, enjoying the coloured scarves and other objects that are handed around, or featuring in the charming improvised song that Dr. Greenwood sings to try to persuade the elves to come out, there is a way for every audience member to get involved. Allan demonstrates a real skill for involving her audience in the story, and giving each child enough attention while still moving the narrative forward.

Though there is a text-basis for the show, language is not necessary to enjoy it as there is a strong multisensory element to the show. Allan creates signs to go along with certain key words in the show, provides pictures, plays music, hands around props, and ensures that there is no need to understand the text to understand the show. The final section of the show, the much anticipated appearance of the elves is beautifully done, with a screen in a box showing a video of the elves and giving the impression that there are actually elves in the box. Dr. Faye Greenwood drops objects into the box, and they appear in the video, perfectly in sync. This innovation and precision is an exciting and charming example of how technology can be used to create magic on stage.

In the perfect setting of the Botanic Gardens (where Dr. Greenwood has collected a number of examples of elf activity), Shhh…The Elves Are Very Shy is a beautiful piece of interactive theatre that will delight young audiences.

Shhh…The Elves Are Very Shy runs at the Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh, until August 26th as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Review -Big Trouble in Little Monkey’s Daycare

The Space on the Mile

06/08/18

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Something is not right at Little Monkey’s Daycare, and little Tommy, a four-and-a-half year old private investigator, is going to get to the bottom of it. This production from Newcastle University Theatre Society is a sort of backwards Bugsy Malone with the toddlers played by adults, to great comic effect. The writing and performances play to all of the classic tropes; as the characters chew on their candy cigarettes, nurse their Angel Delight hangovers and deal in curly straws, an hilarious twist on the classic gangster story is established. As Tommy and his sidekick Bobby investigate why their classmates are vanishing with a mystery illness, there are comic moments for both children and adults in the audience alike.

The production has an air of the rough and ready about it, but that often add to the humour in the piece rather than detracting from it. Similarly, the dubious, hammed-up New Yoihk accents provide many laughs, though lines are sometimes lost to them. Overall the performances are mixed, with some portraying the toddler gangsters adeptly, with sharp comic timing, and others over-acting theirs. The way in which the children are portrayed, combined with the references to old gangster films, raises the question of who the production is aimed at. Though it is billed as being suitable for all ages, and there are comic moments that would appeal to both adults and children, Big Trouble at Little Monkey’s Daycare seems more like a play about children for adults than a piece of theatre for children.

Big Trouble at Little Monkey’s Daycare is an unpolished but entertaining story of choc-ice crime and chickenpox.

Review – Opera Mouse

Pleasance Courtyard

06/08/18

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When you’re a human, you can be pretty much anything you want to be when you grow up – a fire-fighter, a zoologist, a writer, an opera singer. But if you’re a mouse that’s a little more difficult. Opera Mouse, written by Melanie Gall and performed by Melanie Gall and Eden Ballantyne, tells the story of little Tilly Mouse who hears an opera performance through a gap in the theatre wall and is so enchanted by it that she resolves to become an opera singer. However, her animal friends insist that mice can’t sing (they obviously never watched Babe), and any humans she meets scream when they see her. Despite this, Tilly Mouse perseveres in this charming story of a little mouse determined to follow her big dreams.

As Gall and Ballantyne tell Tilly’s story using puppetry, storytelling and song, they introduce their young audience to opera in a simple, accessible way. Gall, an opera singer herself, explains what an opera is, and suggests some of the work that goes into the artform by telling the audience about Tilly’s practice and hard work to become an opera singer. Interspersing the story with snippets of some famous operatic works, Gall and Ballantyne create a delightful and entertaining introduction to an art-form that would not usually be associated with audiences of eager, giggling children!

Both Gall and Ballantyne are skilled performers in their own genres, with Gall’s beautiful musical performance entrancing her listeners, and Ballantyne’s engaging storytelling creating a strong connection with the audience throughout.

Opera Mouse is a sweet and entertaining introduction to opera, that reminds the children (and adults, and mice) in the audience that it is always worth chasing your dreams, because they may just come true!

Opera Mouse runs at Pleasance Courtyard until 27th August as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Review – Grimm’s Fairer Tales

Stories Alive

Pleasance Courtyard

06/08/18

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We’re all familiar with Grimm’s fairy tales such as Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, and Rumplestiltskin, but what if they were a little more fair than fairy? In his show Grimm’s Fairer Tales, Eden Ballantyne of Stories Alive sets out to tell more feminist versions of the brothers Grimm’s classic tales.

Starting with an exciting version of Red Riding Hood, called Red the Killer of Wolves, Ballantyne brings a number of children (and sometimes grown-ups) onto the stage to help him tell the story. The three stories that make up the show, Red Riding Hood, a version of Hansel and Gretel in which the titular characters are 30 years old and their parents abandon them at a job centre, and a version of Rumplestiltskin in which marriage isn’t a foregone conclusion and the women of the village are the heroes of the story, all present an updated twist on the classics for a 21st century audience.

Grimm’s Fairer Tales is an engaging and entertaining show, which delights the children and adults in the audience alike. Throughout the piece, the whole audience is given opportunities to get involved if they want to, and Ballantyne’s enthusiastic and attentive style of storytelling draws the whole room into the tale. Grimm’s Fairer Tales will make you laugh your socks off, at the same time as asking questions about women and girls’ roles in classic fairy tales. A charming and lively hour of storytelling, Grimm’s Fairer Tales is worth a watch!

Grimm’s Fairer Tales runs at Pleasance Courtyard until August 27th as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Review – Finding Peter

Theatre N16 & Eastlake Productions

Gilded Balloon Teviot

06/08/18

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The Darling children never forgot their time in Neverland and so, when Tinkerbell flies through their window one night to tell them that Peter Pan is in trouble, they grab the opportunity to follow the second star to the right and fly straight on till morning.  Telling a story of rescuing Peter Pan from a pirate kidnapper, Finding Peter has the elements of an exciting and engaging show, but does not tie them together.

The performances, from James Tobin, Jessica Arden and Jenny Wilford, who double up to play all of the characters, often favour volume and ostensibly child-like voices over a connection with their audience. The production demands a certain level of interaction with the audience, asking them questions, and getting them to sprinkle fairy dust and think happy thoughts. However, it often feels that the performers are speaking at the children in the audience rather than to them, once again costing them that all important connection with their audience.

Alongside this, though the performances suggest that they are simplifying things for the younger members of the audience (or at least speaking them slowly and loudly), the script, written by Frankie Meredith, flits between over simplifying some elements and using phrases and words that much of the audience may not understand. Delivering lines that use difficult language in the voice used to talk to babies and toddlers does not make them accessible, rather it risks alienating an audience.

The nugget of the idea behind this show had promise, and the plot was fun and exciting, but the writing and performances left it short. Finding Peter could be a strong show, if the tone and language were more accurately pitched at its young audience.

Finding Peter runs at Underbelly Bristo Square until 27th August as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Review – Ellie and the Enormous Sneeze

Assembly Roxy

05/08/18

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Nine year old Ellie longs for adventure, as any nine year-old should, but her aunt is too worried to let her. She worries that if Ellie goes exploring their little brown town, something terrible might happen. But even curious little Ellie couldn’t get into any adventures going to borrow a cup of sugar from a neighbour could she? When her worried auntie sends her next door to do just that, however, Ellie proves that she can find an adventure anywhere.

After cycling off on her bike, Ellie spots something in the distance, a house, and it looks like it is on fire! She cycles out of the town and up the hill to investigate. When she enters the house, which is not on fire, she meets Stanley, an old man who cannot sneeze. With the help of some chocolate pudding and a long list, Ellie sets out to try 1000 ways to trigger a sneeze.

Mouths of Lions create an energetic and charming production that reminds us of the importance of friendship and helping each other. The three performers deliver enthusiastic and considered performances, perfectly pitched towards the age of their audience. Louise Dickenson is an hilariously highly-strung Aunt Tracy, knowing exactly how far she can push her wails and panicked babbling to keep her audience laughing.  Both Oliver Weatherly as Stanley and Shea Wojtus as Ellie balance silliness with sweetness, creating a space for the audience to laugh, and to see the messages of friendship within the story. Adding to this, Tom Crosely-Thorne’s compositions bring a further layer of energy and storytelling to the piece.

Ellie and the Enormous Sneeze is a funny, well-thought out production filled with bogeys and dreams.

Ellie and the Enormous Sneeze runs at Assembly Roxy until 27th August as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

 

Review – An Elephant in the Garden

Dairy Room – Underbelly Bristo Square

05/08/18

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Based on Michael Morpurgo’s 2009 novel of the same name, An Elephant in the Garden is an enchanting and moving one-woman show, performed by Alison Reid. Set around the 1945 Dresden bombing, this production tells the story of our narrator, Lizzie, as she embarks on the long walk from Dresden to seek refuge with American troops with her mother, and Marlene, an elephant.

Perhaps I should explain the elephant before I continue? Marlene (named after Marlene Dietrich) was in Dresden Zoo where Lizzie’s mother worked and, when the bombings happened, was to be shot along with all of the other animals to prevent them from running wild across the city. Rather than let that happen, Lizzie’s mother adopts the elephant and brings her to live in their back garden, and so we find ourselves with a steady stalwart elephant friend who plods through the story, acting as its spine, drawing the characters forward alongside her, and provides a memorable metaphor for persistence, care and humanity.

An Elephant in the Garden is, at face value, a beautiful feat of storytelling, but as we get further into the story another important note shines through.  As Lizzie’s uncle argues in support of the rise of the Nazi party in Germany, it is difficult to avoid the parallels to some of the arguments of the 21st Century far-right. Similarly, as Lizzie discusses their journey, the portions of it that they make with other people, he shelter they find in the house of the countess, their six month spent in a ‘Camp for Displaced People,’ it is impossible not to think of the people still making life-threatening journeys in search of refuge, of the people in the camps in Calais, of those in direct provision in Ireland. People are still in these impossibly difficult situations.  Though the play does not directly allude to any contemporary parallels, the opportunity is there, to learn from the past and find the strength of compassion needed to stop these things continuing to happen another 70-odd years from now.

An Elephant in the Garden is a beautifully performed story that looks back to the past, but in doing so provides an insight into the present.

An Elephant in the Garden runs at Underbelly Bristo Square until 27th August as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Review – The Kagools: Kula

Just the Tonic at the Caves

04/08/18

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Silent physical comedy duo, The Kagools, are on the hunt for a missing key. Blending video and live performance, the pair embark on a madcap hour’s search that involves a lot of audience interaction, slapstick humour, and water balloons.

The Kagools are adept physical comedians, creating a comic pair reminiscent of Laurel and Hardy. Neither character is sensible or particularly prone to getting things right, but one is clearly the leader and believes herself to be the brains and talent of the operation. This pairing of characters sets up a strong comic foundation as the performers exploit the imbalance between them for numerous gags, from jealous competition over a love interest, to a drawn out battle with a roll of sellotape.

However, the greatest imbalance in the show often lies between the performers and the audience rather than between the two characters. As I previously mentioned, there is a high level of audience interaction in the show, with audience members regularly being pulled up on stage to take part in various ridiculous scenarios.  Though many of these interactive moments delivered numerous laughs and gags, at times there was an uncomfortable sense to the interactions, as audience members were prompted to do things that they did not necessarily seem comfortable doing, including soaking other audience members with water balloons, unexpectedly playing a love interest, or having their handbag taken and rifled through on stage. These could all have been entertaining and positive interactions, but not without a sense of consent, which was sometimes sorely lacking in this production. Similarly, splashing the audience with water is one matter, but throwing clouds of talcum powder around the auditorium was a step too far; anyone with breathing difficulties would be wise to avoid this show.

Though The Kagools’ performances are strong, and their use of video to add layers to the production, and facilitate the portrayal of additional characters is ingenious and effective, Kula suffers from a lack of consideration of the welfare of their audience.

The Kagools: Kula runs at Just the Tonic at the Caves until  August 26th as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.