Australian theatre company Cre8ion has been touring Fluff for over a decade
From lost toys to curious boys, this year’s Imaginate Festival had a wealth of great theatre. The 2016 edition of Edinburgh’s international children’s festival featured work from Belguim's Kopergietery and Mambocito Mio, Australian theatre company Cre8ion, the Netherlands' Het Filiaal theatermakers and Scotland's own Andy Cannon and Wendy Weatherby.
Broken Dreams ●●●●
Kopergietery and Mambocito Mio / credit: Phil Deprez
It doesn’t take long to figure out that this weird and wonderful show, made in the Kopergietery arts centre in Ghent, is not your average children’s theatre fare. As we file through the door, we’re handed a yellow form to fill in (a tick box exercise about hopes and dreams), which is then swapped for small yellow rubber duck.
Once we’ve ‘filled’ our duck with a single wish, via a recording booth, it’s then posted into a long transparent tube filled with water – and off it sails. We haven’t even taken our seats and already the memorable moments are stacking up.
But as impressively complicated as the water tube is, once we move into the performance space, the actual set is even more remarkable. The front of a lorry, surrounded by dozens of cardboard boxes, is the final destination for our wee duckies, who swim around the bonnet waiting to be plucked by selected audience members armed with a hook.
It’s the perfect set-up for a show which is at turns touching and utterly bonkers. Five performers, each adept at playing a musical instrument and singing, select a few of our yellow forms and try to make those dreams come true. One girl wants to fly, a man wants to be Beyoncé for a day, a woman wants to re-live her first kiss.
Of course none of these things actually happen, but the attempts make for a witty, imaginative and slightly anarchic hour of theatre.
Fluff: A Story of Lost Toys ●●●●
Cre8ion / credit: Sean Young A lost toy is a tragedy for its young owner, but it would seem that some of them at least have gone to a good home. Australian theatre company Cre8ion has been touring Fluff for over a decade, and although its slightly maverick approach won’t please all-comers, there’s something deliciously off-beat about it.
Dressed head to foot in gingham, two sisters scour the world looking for lost toys, before transporting them home in an old pram. There, each toy is placed in its own tiny bed, given a name and an accompanying sound effect by the keyboard player. It’s a simple enough set-up, but the sisters milk each bedtime for all it’s worth, enlisting help from the excitable young audience in the form of chicken and frog noises.
A set packed to capacity with toys acts as eye candy throughout, and the live music – recorded and looped in real time – is a regular source of amusement. If you’re looking for a fluffy story, Fluff isn’t it. Instead, it’s a vibrant, fun introduction to a life less ordinary.
The Great Illusionist ●●●●●
Het Filiaal Theatermakers In an age when magic equals large-scale, big bucks illusions, it’s nice to know that sleight of hand can still drop jaws. The three performers of Netherlands-based Het Filiaal trained long and hard with a magician to learn the myriad of tricks that populate this witty, charming and clever show – and it’s paid off.
Dropped in with little pomp and ceremony, the illusions are technically proficient and often completely baffling. Tiny balls disappear, minds are read, one performer’s head is seemingly chopped off, a bunny is transported from one side of the stage to the other, and so it goes on.
But magic is only one aspect of The Great Illusionist, the heart of which lies in a gentle story that slowly unfolds. A young boy yearns to be a magician and, after hours of hard work, he achieves his goal. Meanwhile, the aforementioned rabbit reminisces about a lifetime on the stage until, right at the end, their stories intertwine and the sweetest of plot twists is revealed.
Much of the show’s success lies in the hands of the hugely likeable performers Gábor Tarján (who also provides the show’s live score), Ramses Graus and Henke Tuinstra, each of whom build a solid connection with the audience. That none of them had any magic experience before rehearsing this show is incredible, as is their ability to deliver such a nuanced performance in a language not their own. Together, they deliver a truly magical treat for all ages.
Tales of a Grandson ●●●●
Andy Cannon and Wendy Weatherby It’s 1976, and wee Andrew is staying at his grandparents for the weekend. There’s a trip to the museum in Edinburgh, game playing in the back garden, and a Tunnocks teacake for afters. Best of all, there’s a day trip to Loch Ness to spot Nessie.
All of which comes via the childhood memories of master storyteller Andy Cannon, a man with an ability to bring history alive before our eyes. Pitched equally at adults and children, Tales of a Grandson looks back not just at the epic moments and big characters in Scotland’s history, but the stuff of everyday life in the 1970s.
So we’re just as likely to hear about William Wallace and Mary Queen of Scots as we are Creamola Foam and the songs of Andy Stewart. Occasionally, the knowing laughter of the adults leaves the children looking bemused, but there’s more than enough here for everyone.
Backed by the atmospheric strings of cellist Wendy Weatherby, Cannon uses tea towels, clothes pegs and a tea cosy as impromptu costumes to re-create life with the Romans, Vikings and Bonnie Prince Charlie, as well as filling us all in on how Scotland got its name.
A smattering of vocal audience participation is dotted throughout the show, and we all leave better informed, entertained and – for the adults at least – with a wee tear in our eye.