THEY say that we human beings are born alone, and that in the end, we die alone.
Yet the feeling persists that in the years between, we should be able to find true love and companionship, for at least part of our journey; and in the first few days of this year’s Bank of Scotland Imaginate Festival – Edinburgh’s annual international clebration of theatre for children – there’s been no shortage of shows which touch on the question of how it feels to be alone, and the strange bargains we sometimes have to make in order to end that loneliness.
The Festival began with a rush of excitement, on Monday evening, as the French dance company Arcosm returned to the Traverse, bringing their new show aimed at audiences over seven. Itself titled Traverse, the show is an explosive one-hour exploration of the life and imagination of a man who seems to live alone in his own little flat, wearing a cheap-looking tank-top and surrounded by all the paraphernalia of a shabby fitted kitchen, functional, but a shade 1970s-looking. His solitude is soon disrupted by the arrival of three other characters, including a glamorous female neighbour who immediately invades his dreams, and two other men, who sometimes seem – and look – like shadows of himself.
The show continues in a riot of vocal, percussive and choreographic invention, as the central character – played by artistic director Thom Guerry – dreams of love and sociability, becomes involved in weird slapstick interludes with his three neighbours and various flapping cupboard doors, and towards the end conducts an orchestra of percussion that spreads out from the kitchen into a whole dark stage, containing two huge xylophones.
In the end, the show seems like a reflection both on the solitary nature of many modern lives – transient, migratory, rootless – and on the explosion of creativity, music, dance and beauty that can take place when people truly get together; both elegiac and celebratory, and as funny and inventive as it is beautiful and thought-provoking.
Produced by director Lu Kemp and writer Oliver Emanuel, Titus is a fine new Scottish-made show, for audiences of secondary-school age, about a teenage boy who feels so alone he finds himself one day standing on the edge of his school roof, preparing to jump. In a festival full of exciting design and colour, Titus is a simple, austere-looking 45-minute monologue, in which we gradually come to understand the extent of the loss Titus has suffered, and the reasons why he feels so abandoned.
Yet the quality and rhythm of the writing, and the sheer contained skill and eloquence of Joseph Arkley’s solo performance, is so intense that Titus emerges as a compelling piece of theatre; a portrait of small-town England that stings with telling detail, and nonetheless contains a dazzling streak of magic realism – just enough to redeem the harshness of Titus’s life, and to make a future seem possible, after all.
After the clarity and force of Titus, delivered in the small Traverse studio to a right-age audience, it’s slightly disturbing to encounter the subtle storytelling of Stella Den Haag’s Rumpelstiltskin in a Brunton Theatre that seems several sizes too big for it, and in front of an audience many of whom seem far too young for this show aimed at teenagers and pre-teens. In a narrative subtly shared among four performers, this Rumpelstiltskin explores the harsh bargain made by the heroine, Esmiralda, in order to win her Prince by spinning her straw into gold: she must give up her firstborn child to a strange goblin, who says he has no feelings, yet yearns for the joy of parenthood.
Erna van den Berg’s production features some wonderful music, and a potentially powerful exploration of the tension between friendship and romance that runs through the lives of girls in their teens. Yet I found myself constantly distracted both by the inability of some of the actors to expand their performances to suit the scale of the theatre, and – more seriously – by a goblin-figure portrayed in a skullcap, twisting his fingers together like some ancient anti-Semitic stereotype, forcing Esmiralda to sign her future away in return for gold. What that means, in a show made in the Netherlands today, I really hesitate to guess.
Meanwhile, at Church Hill Theatre, the small Scottish company Frozen Charlotte deliver their delicious show for two to five-year-olds, Paperbelle, in which the solo performer, Stanley Pattison, plays Eric, who lives in fractious but friendly harmony with his companion, a little paper line-drawing girl called Paperbelle. In theme and concept, Paperbelle resembles the recent acclaimed Catherine Wheels show White; it shows a white domestic world gradually invaded by all the colours of the rainbow, which seem a little frightening at first.
Yet its paper-based aesthetic and the playful, robust relationship between Paperbelle and Eric, make for a lighter, funnier show than White; and I’m still puzzling slightly over the technical wizardry that makes little Paperbelle pop up in different locations all over the room, whenever she needs to talk to Eric. It’s a simple concept, beautifully worked out; and I’ve rarely seen a toddler audience so happy, as they finally unwrapped the little white cushions they were sitting on, to find that inside, they were red, and yellow, and blue and green, all the bright poster-paint colours of a happy child’s world.
• Paperbelle is at Church Hill Theatre until tomorrow, and at the Carnegie Hall, Dunfermline, on 12 May. Titus tours later this year. Traverse and Rumpelstiltskin, runs ended. Imaginate continues in Edinburgh until 14 May.
BRUNTON THEATRE, MUSSELBURGH
CHURCH HILL THEATRE, EDINBURGH
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Tuesday 21 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 12 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 3 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: North west