Mary Woodward Review

Whirlygig, Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, Review

As Part of the Edinburgh International Children’s Festival

**** (4 stars)

A bare floor with strange outlined shapes on it, and in the centre a glowing red egg…

Someone’s singing dum da dum dum behind us: others copy what’s being sung, and four performers slowly move down the stairs to that floor with the drawings all over it.  One of them claps a rhythm, then jumps in time with it: the others try to copy, but one of them just can’t get it right at first – hoorah! At last she’s got it right too, and they go off, still singing.

One performer comes back in, carrying something – what is it? Now she’s trying to see will it fit into any of the outlines on the floor: what’s going on? More and more things are brought in, and now we can see musical instruments of all kinds – things to bang, to pluck, to blow, and finally the biggest thing you’ve ever seen – an enormous metal coiled thing with a huge horn at the end, which you have to climb into to play, and which makes wonderful deep rich notes: it’s a sousaphone.

Suddenly a cuckoo clock starts calling: everyone rushes round in a panic, getting themselves and their instruments ready.  They put their music straight on the music stands, and begin a fabulous tango – the giant metal sousaphone is joined by a ukulele, a saxophone, and another weird instrument – you blow down a tube, but that’s joined to a tiny piano-like long box: it’s a melodica!  This ‘formal’ music-making regularly punctuates the joyfully silly goings on – and no doubt gives the performers a moment of seated respite…

Rory Clark, Daniel Padden, Sita Pieraccini and Claire Willoughby are four multi-talented comedic musicians who have enormous fun playing around with rhythm and melody in delightfully complex ways.  They start with single sounds, adding more and more to create multi-layered music that never stands still – as indeed these four rarely do themselves.  Things are bashed, hit, plucked and blown – there’s a wonderful quartet for glass bottles, initially cleverly tuned by the amount of water in each, and dropping in pitch each time a player takes a swig from their bottle.  It’s not simply a matter of one person per instrument: at one point the four musicians are inextricably entwined around each other while playing [how??!!] more than four instruments between them: at another a wonderful sea shanty emerges from a swaying collection of instruments – you can almost taste the sea spray.

There’s a constant change of rhythm and tempo, and the audience is kept well engaged – at one point the musicians come round pointing out things about us – pink trainers, sparkly bag – and playing snatches of tune for each one: when they find TEACHER all four join to serenade her, with an extra fancy bit for her GLASSES…  At one point the musicians tear up their sheet music – rhythmically; at another they try to play from music which has holes in it.  When they yet again reassemble to play their tango and realise they have torn up the music for it, they are at first non-plussed – but then realise the joy of improvising on their instruments.  An exuberant jam session ends this whirligig performance.

The most telling accolade for Rory, Daniel, Sita and Claire came after the loud and enthusiastic applause at their final bows, when one of the teachers announced that his classes unable to stay on for the Q&A session as the buses were waiting to ship them back to school.  A heartfelt groan issued from so many throats it was obvious everyone had been having such a splendid time they simply didn’t want to leave the theatre.

For those of us who stayed, both the questions and the answers were fascinating.  We learned about the fly that made an appearance; how hard it is to sing when three other people are piled on top of you; that once you’ve learned to play one instrument, it’s much easier to pick up other ones – and that you don’t have to be brilliant at them all to be a performer.  Rory was asked how heavy the sousaphone is, and Daniel was congratulated for being in his first show with the group.  [He also needs huge applause for being the creator and co-director!].  Each player told us their favourite instrument, and favourite part of the show, and talked about how long it took to make the show: I hope all this inspired many kids to decide that music-making is going to be a major part of their lives from now on.

Credit must be given to the ‘backstage workers’ too.  Gill Robertson, Co-director and Artistic Director of Catherine Wheels; Lauren Desjardins, Stage Manager; Fran French, Assistant Stage Manager; Katherina Radeva, Set Designer; Alison Brown, Costume Designer and Michael Sherin, Movement Director have created a wonderfully silly exploration of the fun you can have making music with other people.  Our four musicians showed that you don’t have to be a virtuoso to take part – some of the most fun was had with simple things you just hit.

Let your hair down, let loose your imagination, and celebrate your inner child with Whirlygig!

Whirlygig, Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh runs until 13th May Tickets and more information available at www.imaginate.org.uk

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