Duck, Death and the Tulip
Wolf Erlbruch's unconventional children’s story adapted with sensitivity at Edinburgh Festival Fringe
This article is from 2014.
Death is a topic that children’s shows generally steer clear of, particularly when dealing with audiences under seven. Yet this puppet-based play embraces ‘Death’ as one of its main characters, personified as a rather lonely old man. The adaptation of German illustrator Wolf Erlbruch’s unconventional children’s story uses his character to introduce the theme, without being either maudlin or depressing. It even manages to get a laugh or two.
Duck discovers that Death has been following her all her life. After some initial tentativeness, the unlikely pair become friends; swimming, climbing trees and drinking tea together. Gradually, she becomes used to Death as a part of her life.
Humorous expressions and silly sounds provoke giggles from the nursery age audience and prevent the play from becoming too dark. Music, lighting and the show’s gentle pace mean that it has an almost hypnotic effect, although some may find the emphasis on every ponderous gesture a little slow-moving. This is perhaps a result of being rather light on dialogue, but fans of the book will be glad to find that much of the witty exchanges between Duck and Death have been lifted verbatim – while the puppets look like the illustrations brought to life. However, the 45 minute running time does mean that some padding has been added to the picture book’s plot, and moments that are represented by one illustration are stretched out over several minutes.
The show deserves credit for the way it has managed to handle a difficult subject in front of a difficult audience, without ever straying into cod-philosophy or easy solutions. No prizes for guessing the ending though, so parents with particularly sensitive offspring may wish to avoid.
Summerhall, 0845 874 3001, until 24 Aug (not 11, 18), 10am, £8 (£6).