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Little Gift Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

Little Gift, Traverse Theatre,

**** (4 stars)

Against a gigantic pile of suitcases, trunks and hatboxes Guy Hargreaves sings, dances, does magic and keeps a young audience [generally aged 3-7] completely silent for 45 minutes as he tells us about his ‘best job in the world’ – helping people.  “Who will we help today?” he sings: it’s Ted, who lives in Ted Street in The Busy Town, and off we go to find him…

Ted, a grey-clad and wispy-haired old man, lives alone and spends his time watching the world outside his window or staring at the television with no-one beside him on the sofa.  This splendid Shona Reppe puppet touches our hearts as we watch his lonely existence and pity his frustration at the noise his party-loving neighbours make as he’s preparing to go to bed.  A little bit of magic from Guy and we learn that Ted dreams of having a party – but there’s no-one on his guest list: he has no friends to invite.

This is where Guy and his sidekick Sylvie [a glitter-spangled feather who dances as she warbles her song] realise that their help is needed to get Ted to go outside into the world and meet people.  The button that had come off Guy’s jacket becomes a seed which is planted and, with the help of some delightful magic, becomes a plant which Ted is astonished to find beside his bed in the morning.  It grows slowly and becomes Ted’s constant companion – but one day it droops and wilts: surely it’s not dying?  Ted must take the plant outside into the fresh air and sunshine – but can he bring himself to leave his house…?

It’s very hard, but Ted does it – and suddenly comes to life.  He finds adventure – flying at the end of a kite string, climbing a hill to enjoy the view, and building a snowman to share with nearby children.  The plant recovers, and continues to grow, becoming a small tree: when Ted finally returns home he finds it’s now too big to take back inside the house.  At first Ted is very sad, but when he discovers that people come every day to watch the tree growing he makes more and more friends: he invites them all to a splendidly glittering party at which his noisy neighbours, who are now good friends, provide the music.  Ted’s party means Guy’s job is done – and he reflects joyfully that his is indeed the best job in the world.

This is a delightful show with an engaging and inventive soundtrack and a superbly imagined and constructed set which transforms into the different rooms of Ted’s house and the landscape outside into which he ventures, finally becoming the tree, now huge, through which Ted has made so many friends. Guy is a very versatile and talented actor who constantly engages with his young audience and keeps them enthralled.  With the help of Sylvie he is able to explain to the youngsters that what might seem unkind – letting the wee plant wilt – or sad – Ted having to leave his plant friend outside because it will no longer fit through his front door – are all part of the PLAN to help Ted: and we see that he is right – Ted’s life is completely transformed, all from the little gift of a seed.

I found this gentle show a joy to watch, and the audience loved it.   Little Gift is in Edinburgh as part of a wide-ranging tour – you can catch it when it tours to Livingston, Inverness, Paisley and Giffnock.

M6 Theatre company presents: Little Gift, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Run Ended. Tour Continue.

Review by Mary Woodward

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Wendy and Peter Pan, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

Wendy and Peter Pan
**** (4 stars)

It’s very loud, very energetic and mostly very entertaining: but is it “Peter Pan from Wendy’s point of view”? Surely the Darlings didn’t have another son, Tom, whose death makes Wendy feel guilty that she couldn’t save him and that it’s up to her to fix things and make her parents’ relationship ‘go right’ again… Peter hasn’t lost his shadow, there’s no big shaggy dog looking after the children, the crocodile doesn’t get Hook, there’s not that much flying, and a fair amount of adult conversation reveals the cracks in the family, which will apparently be put right again if Mrs Darling goes out and gets a job…

The set which doubles as the lost boys’ house and Hook’s ship is a splendid, adult-sized soft play area which is used to the full, with obvious enjoyment, by the entire cast. Hook is villainous in the extreme – Dirty Den from East Enders come back to get his revenge on the boy who fed his hand to the crocodile: there’s a lovely moment when his hook is removed and replaced with a rapier blade so that he can fight with two swords. The crocodile makes a single cameo appearance – but it’s magnificent!

Mr and Mrs Darling [Gyuri Sarossy and Bonnie Baddoo] double up as the daringly feisty Tiger Lily and villainous Hook, their genteel Edinburgh accents being replaced by ones somewhat more common [and English]. Ziggy Heath’s Peter is suitably dashing and mercurial, while Sally Reid’s Tink[erbell], a chunky and feisty Weegie, is certainly not the usual tinkly wee fluffy thing. John [George Naylor] already shows signs of becoming a cricket-obsessed bore, while Michael Cristian Ortega] shows a delightfully feminine side. The sibling relationships and rivalries are excellently portrayed as Wendy [Isobel McArthur] struggles with the burdens placed upon her and the ones she takes on herself, both at home and in Neverland: trying to keep things running and to get the boys to do what they have to do, while they Simply Want To Have Fun.

I appreciated the positivity of the three ‘girls’ – Wendy, Tiger Lily and Tink – but I’m not sure about the girly bonding bit between them. I liked Hook’s attempt to lure Wendy to his side with a sparkly dress and the invitation to be a pirate: and I had no idea that Dorian Simpson’s Smee felt that way about his captain… It was delightful when Wendy got to fly with Peter, and everyone went ‘aaah’ when they kissed: but still Peter refused to grow up, and Hook railed against growing older.

It was a highly energetic performance, with an excellently juvenile Peter, and a crackingly feisty Wendy. The audience cheered and booed and hissed: and still I felt something lacking – the play was so concerned to get its message across that it interfered with the narrative at various points. I really don’t see why we had to drag Tom into it, or have Wendy and Peter up ladders looking at the stars while he explained about them being ‘lost boys’ [ones who had died but whose parents couldn’t let themselves ever be happy – if they could, the boys would leave the stars and join Peter and his crew in Neverland…] It’s a good way to begin to address the subjects of death and loss, but why were there no girl stars?

I felt a great deal of sympathy for Wendy throughout, and accept that she chose to grow up and Peter didn’t: I don’t know that I totally believe the ending. I didn’t have a Young person with me this time so can’t report on how much was picked up and how much passed over their head. I was left feeling a loss. But the audience loved it!

Wendy and Peter Pan, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, run ends 5 January 2019, For tickets go to:

review by Mary Woodward


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Growing Stories: Scottish International Storytelling Festival Launch

Growing Stories: Scottish International Storytelling Festival

19-31 October 2018

Scottish Storytelling Centre and other venues

The festival kicked off in style with a reception at the Storytelling Centre where participants, supporters and listeners gathered to celebrate the 30th Festival and the centuries-old relationship between Scotland and Ireland which is the focus of this year’s festival.  We were reminded that storytelling is not a one-way process: storytelling is an exchange, a sharing of experience whereby we connect with and learn from each other.

The festival’s theme doesn’t exclude tales from the rest of the world!  There are contributions from Iceland, Sierra Leone, India, Brittany, Canada, France and Wales, while Diane Edgecomb tells of her voyage of discovery into Kurdish mountain villages to record tales before they were lost under Turkish laws forbidding use of the Kurdish language – there may even be some English joining in the fun…

storytelling 1

There are many family-friendly events – including a walking tour – Gory Stories – which departs from the Mercat Cross on the Royal Mile at 11am Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st; a session about trees at the Botanic Cottage in the Botanic Gardens; and a session celebrating Apple Day at the Lochend Secret Garden.  There are plenty of open hearth storytelling sessions, exhibitions at the National Library, and even a spontaneous Marathon of Halloween storytelling at 10am on Wednesday 31st, and much, much more in the wide-ranging programme on offer this year.  Check it all out at [and don’t confuse it with which is the Scientific Instrument Society…!]

Two very different shows followed the reception, both with superb storytellers who kept us enthralled and invited us to join them in song and dance.

Ruth Kirkpatrick explained the clan motto – ‘I’ll mak sikkar’ [I’ll make sure] which originated in real “game of thrones” stuff in the 13th century, when Roger Kirkpatrick,  Robert the Bruce’s right-hand man, ensured that the Red Comyn would no longer contest the Bruce’s claim to the Scottish crown.  She told us of her ancestors who moved [probably under a cloud] from Dumfriesshire to Caithness, and of the youngest son of Thomas Kirkpatrick and Margaret Shearer, nicknamed ‘Asy-pattle’ [ash-head] because he spent his time dreaming by the fire, who saved the king and all his people from the ravages of the Stourworm, the king of all the sea-serpents.

storytelling 2

The family later moved to Orkney, where Sarah McFadyen, whose mother is a Kirkpatrick, grew up.  She provided a subtle and varied musical accompaniment to the stories on banjo, fiddle and guitar and told us of her memories of growing up on Hoy, where her fisherman father always sold the crabs he caught, but where she could go out to the skerries where the seals were basking: though they swam away when she arrived, they always came back…

Seals, as you know, are called selkies: and the legends tell of selkies – angels who have fallen a little but don’t deserve to be in hell – who are able to shed their sealskin and appear in human form: always dark-eyed and fascinating.  Ruth told the story of Inga, who was wise and beautiful and good and, though constantly courted, never found a man her equal in accomplishment and wisdom.  She was sought in marriage by the a hero of the Crusades who took Odin’s oath to marry her: this meant he would get his wish but it would not turn out well – and indeed the tale looked set to end tragically, just as it does in the ballad she sang: but hoorah! justice was done and Inga was reunited with her selkie lover and the son she bore him.

In between the tales we were taught a wonderful song about the midgies – the Stourworm’s parting gift to Scotland: wee teeth like piranhas, they’ll drive you bananas if you let one get under your semmit…

How to follow that?  Well, the Armagh Rhymers in Ceilidh gave us a wonderfully mad Irish ceilidh of music, dance, song and story with plenty of audience involvement and an invitation to learn the Irish words and join in a closing dance…

storytelling 3

As we moved into the storytelling court we saw a man wearing a giant woven basket bull’s head, Mr Potato Head playing the extraordinary Uilleann pipes [the Irish bagpipe with two bladders to feed air to an extraordinary collection of drones with keys enabling pitch changes plus a chanter, and a fiddler with a weird mask and wig.  They were joined by a woman with a glorious horse head in much strange behaviour and incomprehensible shouting: maybe think Monty Python meets the [hand-woven] Muppets with a side order of [willing] audience involvement… Irish mummers, like their English counterparts, would travel the country bringing entertainment to rural communities, inviting them to celebrate season, culture and nature.

We met brave Saint Patrick who fought and overcame the Turkey champion, who was killed but was, with audience participation, magically brought back to life.  Wicked Oliver Cromwell appeared and there was a lot of spitting into buckets and a riotous dance involving more audience members with tambourines and suchlike.    The horse married the bull and tossed her bouquet into the audience, whereupon her six children were invited to dance at the wedding: and finally we heard the story of Fionn mac Chumhail’s extraordinarily convoluted pursuit of a tune he heard a fairy piper play, and which has been passed down ever since as the ‘Gold Ring Tune’.  It  was then played to us before we were invited to learn the aforementioned song in Irish and join in with the dance – which turned out to be the Hokey Cokey…!

A fabulous evening’s entertainment, and a great beginning to the Storytelliing Centre’s celebration of international oral culture.

Preview by Mary Woodward

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Kiss Me Kate, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh Preview

Kiss Me, Kate is an irresistible celebration of the joy and madness of working in the theatre. With a score studded with some of the greatest classics of American musical theatre including ‘BRUSH UP YOUR SHAKESPEARE’, ‘ANOTHER OP’NIN’, ANOTHER SHOW, SO IN LOVE’, Kiss Me, Kate sizzles from start to finish and is simply ‘TOO DARN HOT’ to miss.

Set both on and off-stage during the production of a musical version of Shakespeare’s theatrical farce The Taming of the Shrew, Kiss Me, Kate revolves around the tempestuous love lives of actor-producer Fred and his leading lady turned ex-wife, Lilli Vanessi. Add to the mix the ingénue Lois Lane and her boyfriend Bill Calhoun — not to mention a couple of gangsters who get caught up in the show — and you’ve got the perfect recipe for an evening of slap-stick comedy, sparkling charm, and exhilarating choreography.

The all-singing, all-dancing cast is led by the acclaimed baritone Quirijn de Lang who returns to the production as Fred Graham and Stephanie Corley as Lilli Vanessi. West End star Zoë Rainey, fresh from An American in Paris, stars as Lois Lane with Alan Burkett(Top Hat)reprising the role of Bill Calhoun, for which he received rave reviews from critics and audiences alike. Featuring an electrifying dance ensemble and the full-scale Chorus and Orchestra of Opera North – you’re in for an evening of musical mischief that will leave you grinning from ear to ear.

Opera North Presents “Kiss Me Kate” Festival Theatre Edinburgh, 4th to 7th July, for tickets go to:


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Mbuzeni Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Review

Edinburgh International Children’s Festival – Mbuzeni

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh   30 May 2018 [run ends 31st]

***** (5 stars)

How do you describe Koleka Putuma’s show?  It was fascinating trying to work out what was going on, with the dialogue in a language [Xhosa] which I don’t speak, and the culture [black South African] totally outwith my experience.  Some of what was said was translated, much of it was no: it’s really interesting to watch someone telling a story, complete with gestures, without having a clue what they’re talking about!

An old woman tells us of four orphan girls who live on one side of the village cemetery: the villagers live the other side, and strongly disapprove of the strange goings-on of these four girls.  They play funerals: they solemnly dig a grave, inter the body, pray over it, deliver sermons, and sing hymns, doing it differently each day, while a black crow watches and caws malevolently.  In one girl’s nightmares veiled figures come for her and the black crow flaps its wings: the others continue to insist that she play the part of the corpse, and run away leaving her buried, even though they have promised not to.

This girl has a pink hair comb, to which she is deeply attached – one day it drops out of her hair, but she doesn’t realise this until she is back home.  The others say they will go with her to get it in the morning, but she wakes in the night and goes to fetch it.  When the other girls realise where she has gone and go to fetch her they find her conducting a funeral service for it.  The black crow caws again as they return home: in her dreams that night black crows come for her, and in the morning she is dead.  The other girls go to the village to ask for help, but every door is slammed in their faces: the old woman returns, silently picks up the dead girl’s shoes and hair wreath, wraps them in her mantilla, and carries them out to the cemetery, where the other three girls bury them and then sing a spine-chilling lament for their departed sister.

The four performers – Thumeka Mzayiya, Awethu Hleli, Sisipho Mbopa and Nolufefe Ntshuntshe – perfectly captured the body language and behaviour of adolescent girls: the love-hate relationships, the teasing, the mocking, the jockeying for position, the underlying affection and particularly the bond between the four who have each suffered in some way before ending up together in the middle of nowhere.  There was much laughter at some of the black humour and the teenage bitching: it was both touching and funny when each girl in turn described their personal heaven, so very different from the near-hell they were enduring on earth.  The singing was incredible, amazing four-part harmonies with immense power to move – hymns, songs of great joy, and the heart-breaking threnody with which the play ended.  The simple set and tall grass-woven chain-link fencing showed the bleak world in which the girls lived – the bare surface on which they slept, the rough ground over which they crept and shuffled to get to the cemetery, and the unforgiving village to which they turned for help.

This was absorbing, visually striking, and musically superb: and at the same time frustrating because I couldn’t fully understand what was going on, or why.  Others in the audience may have been equally confused, but nonetheless applauded loudly and appreciatively.

Edinburgh International Children’s Festival – Mbuzeni Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh   Run ends 31st May.

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Edinburgh International Children’s Festival Preview:

Edinburgh International Children’s Festival opens with a fabulous line-up and a free family weekend at the National Museum of Scotland

You don’t have to be a child to have fun here: I’m going, and I expect to have a great time! The 29th Edinburgh International Children’s Festival (26 May – 3 June 2018) which is produced by Imaginate and funded by Creative Scotland opens this Saturday (26 May) with a family weekend at the National Museum of Scotland featuring free drop-in events throughout the building including live music, pop-up performances, storytelling, hands-on arts activities and more.

The festival is running from 26 May to 3 June and will welcome over 10,000 people over 9 days, with a programme of innovative theatre, dance, multi-media and puppetry performances from all over the world. From intimate, immersive theatre specifically designed for babies, through to high-energy and thought-provoking shows for teenagers, the Festival presents the gold standard of theatre for young audiences. The 2018 programme features 14 shows from 12 countries including Norway, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Ireland, South Africa, Scotland, and the rest of the UK.

Some highlights from this year’s programme include:

Loo (for 2-5 yrs) by Ponten Pie (Spain) Loo is a hot wind from Asia that moves the desert sand dunes, dries up wetlands and leaves ships buried in sandy oceans. Set around the bow of a wooden sunken ship, the show explores the changes this wind can cause with music, a set full of sand and stunning visual effects.

Ogo (for 2.5-6 yrs) by Théâtre des Petites Âmes (Canada) Three strangers have received an invitation to travel with Ogo. But Ogo never comes. This magical show about strangers becoming friends thanks to a mysterious puppet is a wonderful tribute to creativity and imagination, accompanied by live music.

Expedition Peter Pan (for 7-12 yrs) by Het Laagland (The Netherlands) A group of office workers find themselves transported to a strange world where marbles appear in briefcases and paper planes emerge from filing cabinets. Can they regain their power of imagination and rediscover the joys of play? A laugh-out-loud family romp full of joy, music, dancing and special effects.

Eddie & the Slumber Sisters (for 8-13 yrs) by Catherine Wheels Theatre Company (Scotland) The Slumber Sisters, an all-singing trio whose job is to monitor dreams, decide to intervene when Eddie’s nightmares become increasingly wild and chaotic, following the death of her grandmother. This interactive show explores grieving with warm-heart, songs and humour.

Mbuzeni (12+ yrs and adults) by Koleka Putuma (South Africa) Mbuzeni tells the story of four orphan girls and their fixation with burials. From one of South Africa’s most acclaimed young black female voices, this visually evocative journey explores tradition, burial rituals, African folklore, sisterhood and mortality.

There are still public tickets for sale for most shows, especially over the final weekend (1-3 June). For full programme and booking information, go to or call box office on 0131 228 1404.

Preview by Mary Woodward

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Scottish Opera, Ariadne auf Naxos, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

**** (4 stars)

This is an extraordinary work, a mixture of deep tragedy and burlesque, which Scottish Opera have made into an absorbing evening’s entertainment, which received prolonged and enthusiastic applause from a thoroughly satisfied audience.

The Prologue sets the scene: two very different groups have been booked to provide after-dinner entertainment for ‘the richest man in the city’ – an opera company which is to give the première of Ariadne auf Naxos, a Greek tragedy, and a burlesque troupe, led by Zerbinetta, who are to provide a very different entertainment.  At the rich man’s whim, the two groups are told by the Party Planner that they have to perform their pieces simultaneously and be finished before the 9pm firework display begins.  The composer of the opera is distraught at what she sees as the profanation of her work: in this she is ably supported by the Professor of Composition, who also does his best to assuage the fears of the singers that they will lost their best arias.  The burlesque troupe and their Producer are more pragmatic: having been given the outline plot of the tragedy, they see their task as simply inserting their prepared routines within the opera.

In the Opera, Ariadne’s grief at Theseus’ desertion of her makes her long for death to bring an end to her sorrow and pain.  The nymphs Naiad, Dryad, and Echo attempt to console her.  Into this deep mourning irrupt Zerbinetta and her four male colleagues – Harlequin, Scaramuccio, Truffaldino and Brighella – who try hard but are unable to cheer her up.  Zerbinetta offers her own philosophy – all women suffer this sorrow: being alive to each new love is far more satisfying.  Ariadne, sunk in her grief, is inconsolable, until the god Bacchus appears, fleeing the enchantress Circe.  Ariadne believes him to be the messenger of death: he fears she is an enchantress – but falls in love with her and transforms her death wish into a desire for union with him.  Curtain.

This production had the Prologue in English (a new translation by Helen Cooper) and the Opera in the original German.  This suited the wildly differing natures of the two: the hustle and bustle, in-fighting, scheming, rivalries, egos and histrionics of the performers and the Composer were instantly and hilariously obvious, while the German (with supertitles) set the Opera at a slight distance, and lent it a solemn dignity – at least until the burlesque troupe appeared!

Ariadne (Mardi Byers) poured out her misery in richly flowing but interminable streams, and was lovingly ministered to by a charming trio of nymphs (Elizabeth Cragg, Laura Zigmantaite and Lucy Hall).  Zerbinetta’s colleagues (Alex Otterburn, Elgan Llŷr Thomas, Daniel Norman and Lancelot Nomura) sang magnificently and displayed well-honed circus skills, juggling, sword-swallowing and plate-spinning, and impressive acrobatics and dancing.  Zerbinetta herself was for me (and possibly for Strauss) the star of the show – this was an entrancing performance from Jennifer France, whose burlesque skills included a slow strip and ‘song from a swing’, all the while singing the impossibly high notes with which she won my heart in Scottish Opera’s recent production of Jonathan Dove’s Flight.   In the Prologue, Julia Sporsén’s Composer was the perfect manifestation of a neurotic, self-centred, melodramatic and immensely talented young musician: while Thomas Allen’s Professor of Composition gave a masterclass to anyone who aspires to be on stage – subtle, understated, with tiny, telling detail and an intense concentration on whoever was singing to him.  Eleanor Bron’s spoken cameo as the welly-wearing Party Planner was equally delightful: it was a pleasing touch that these two, and the burlesque Producer, peeped through the rear doors of the stage to see just how this hotchpotch production turned out in the end.

Visually the production was excellent, with two exceptions.  The Prologue took place in the grounds of a large mansion, with boardwalks set on the soggy lawns – just like the Edinburgh Book Festival! – where caravans in varying degrees of dilapidation were parked: the Opera took place in the deserted dining room, where the remains of an elegant meal were still on the table – but there was also a sunken area into which Ariadne could quite literally decline and ignore the burlesque troupe’s shenanigans.  The costumes were mostly splendid: the three nymphs in striking black and white evening gowns, and the burlesque players in assorted bizarre costumes.  Zerbinetta spent the Prologue in basque, suspenders and a transparent negligée then appeared in the Opera in full (male) evening dress before removing this to reveal a stunning crimson and gold costume in which she hurled notes into the stratosphere.  So why, oh why, did Ariadne have an unbelievably unflattering pale blue coverall which she later removed to reveal an unremarkable long black dress: and even more inexplicably, why did Bacchus appear in a drab grey coat and trousers, looking more like a bank manager than a god??  He (Dutch tenor Kor-Jan Dusseljee) sang superbly but showed little interest in Ariadne, preferring to stare at the deserted dinner table, and only turning to face her when it was his turn to sing…

The opera contrasts two opinions: that there is only one, all-consuming love, or that there are a lot more fish in the sea and fun to be had with them.  It also tried to make the point that only with a man can you find bliss and be at peace – so it was immensely satisfying that at the final curtain Zerbinetta gave way to the inclination she had shown in the Prologue and left Harlequin for the Composer!

 Scottish Opera Presents: Ariadne auf Naxos Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Run Ended

Review by Mary Woodward