Edinburgh Festival Fringe children's show reviews: A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings | Magic Roman's Summer Holiday | Chores | Yellow Bird Chase

Our latest reviews round-up includes a weird and wonderful fable, a magical trip to the seaside, a bit of slapstick fun, and some charming clowning – for all ages. Words by Ariane Branigan, Fergus Morgan, David Pollock and Fiona Shepherd.

A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings ****

Summerhall (Venue 26)

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There will be few children’s shows at this year’s festival that are more intriguing and imagination-stimulating than A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings. Irish theatremaker Dan Colley’s adaptation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 1968 magic-realist short story about a Colombian couple and the ancient angel they discover on the shore outside their house is a weird and wonderful delight for kids and adults alike.

A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings
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Over fifty fantastical minutes, under Colley’s direction, co-performers Manus Halligan and Karen McCartney use a combination of narration, mime, small-scale puppetry, go-pro live-streaming, and DIY sound effects to tell the tale of Pelayo, Elisenda, and the wizened, winged creature that they discover on the beach, lock up like an animal, and exploit as an attraction.

It is a curious, cryptic story, full of both cruelty and kindness, craziness and contemplation – but a meaningful fable it is not. “There are no lessons here,” McCartney sternly warns at the start of the show. “So don’t go looking for any.”

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Most of it takes place on a table in the centre of the stage, McCartney and Halligan delicately manipulating minute models in mesmerising fashion. The duo display a delightful chemistry as they do so, McCartney blunt and brusque, Halligan shy and almost entirely mute throughout.

Silently bickering like an old couple, they conjure up some exquisite images, filching unlikely items from a cluttered bookcase behind them and bringing them to life on the tabletop. The fifty-minute show’s finale, when the old man eventually spreads his wings and takes flight, is transcendentally beautiful.

A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings has earned acclaim across Ireland since it originally ran at Dublin’s Project Arts Centre in 2019. This Edinburgh Fringe run is its UK premiere. Fingers crossed Colley’s creation will find further homes this side of the Irish Sea. Fergus Morgan

Until 28 August

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Magic Roman's Summer Holiday ****

Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose (Venue 24)

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What’s better than a trip to the seaside? A magical trip to the seaside, of course - and we’re in a safe pair of hands with Magic Roman, member of both the Magic Circle and the Cambridge Pentacle Club.

Roman warms up the crowd straight away by pitting parents and kids against each other in a friendly competition to produce the loudest cheer. Once our voices are completely gone, he launches into a well-choreographed routine through the guise of going on holiday to Blackpool - with the end goal, naturally, being to win the all-important sandcastle building competition. Roman transports us to a plane, a cinema, and a zoo, with zeal; the location changes keep each scene fresh, and open the door for all kinds of magical mishaps.

Roman caters to the whole family: while his one liners and witty asides amuse the grown ups, his magic delights the younger members of the crowd. He offers a relentless streaming of commentary while setting up his tricks, which effectively maintains the energy in the room. Perhaps most impressive, however, is the crowd control on display; it's no mean feat to keep a room of six year olds entertained for a whole hour, but Roman makes it look easy as he switches between tricks and silly musical numbers with seemingly endless enthusiasm.

He always makes sure to involve the young audience, too, encouraging them to shout out answers at every turn - so whether you're interested in card tricks, kazoo solos, or just want to keep the kids engaged for an hour, Magic Roman's Summer Holiday won't disappoint. Ariane Branigan

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Until 28 August

Chores ****

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Assembly George Square Gardens (Venue 3)

A pair of young, pre-vocal toddlers played by adult actors are instructed to clean their room, and what unfolds is a work of elegant simplicity which offers that often-touted but elusive Fringe promise of something enjoyable for all ages. The scenario and the pair’s movements are simple and bold enough to be entirely clear to those in the audience who are the same age as their characters, while parents and elder carers are thrilled by the best of the circus and clowning skills on display.

Set-pieces include one sequence where a performer scales a tottering series of building blocks which spell the show’s name, by using the leaning and apparently sleeping figure of their sibling as a ladder, and then a bit of simple comedy from their effort to replace the blocks in the right order as a tentful of pre-schoolers yell at them to put the letters the right way round. Similar acrobatic set-pieces are sparing, but they’re done with breath-taking skill and elegance.

Australian company Hoopla Clique’s amiable show offers a whole load of playful slapstick fun, which their young crowd laps up despite the intense summer heat in the Piccolo tent, an obstacle which the performers navigate with a deceptive intensity of performance. The pair swing each other around the tent, get in an amusing muddle with their cuddly toys, and get started with some real fun when the leaf-blowers with toilet roll-firing attachments come out.

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The silly, messy play of young children and the farcical comedy such an audience responds to are all strongly emphasised, while the graft and hard physical work needed to make the most impressive set-pieces work is carefully disguised within the performances. Still, for audience and surely performers alike, the moment where bottles of water are sprayed over the front few rows and each other must come as a cooling relief. David Pollock

Until 28 August (not 15, 22)

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Yellow Bird Chase ***

Assembly George Square Studios (Venue 17)

This charming clowning show by Boston-based company Liars and Believers packs a lot of imagination into fifty minutes as three colour-coded maintenance workers – bossy blue, practical red and fearful green – take off after a rare yellow bird, fashioned from a pair of rubber gloves, using the waste materials around them to create landscapes and transport, all while communicating with each other and the audience in an Esperanto-like gibberish.

The kids called upon to help them roughly get the message. The trio’s peril is our peril, their joy is our joy, their crying is…pretty funny and their resourcefulness is boundless, as they conjure a sailboat worthy of a Viking sing-song, a camel from a mop and sheet, and a helicopter using more rubber gloves. Mountains are scaled in their madcap mission, a sea monster is dispatched to the humming of the Jaws theme (one for the adults in the room), a pirate threat neutralised, and all for the sake of an encounter with nature which is full of nonsensically expressed wonder. Fiona Shepherd

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Until 29 August