Theatre review: Whirlygig, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

A madcap musical adventure for everyone aged over six, says the publicity for this new show from children’s theatre makers Catherine Wheels and Red Bridge Arts. It’s a phrase that rings true, for a show by composer-creator Daniel Padden, with co-director Gill Robertson, that often seems to owe as much to grown-up traditions of physical comedy – think Jacques Tati with a touch of Charlie Chaplin – as to the familiar business of theatrical storytelling for children.

Whirlygig

Whirlygig, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh ****

The show begins with the outlines of a dozen musical instruments, scrawled on the stage in front of a glamorous little cabaret curtain; then the four players appear with the instruments themselves, carefully placing them in the right spaces. At the sound of an alarm bell, they form a four-piece band – melodica, sousaphone, ukulele and saxophone – and produce a suitably early 20th-century oompah sound; but their performance is brief, and every time it recurs, over 50 minutes, it seems more fragmented. Meanwhile they experiment with a dozen other ways of creating musical noise, from generating symphonies with half-full bottles and torn sheets of paper to forming themselves into a four-headed one-man band.

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The end result is a beautifully presented and gloriously lit collage of slightly retro musical fun that represents an impressive feat of perfect musical and comic timing by performers Rory Clark, Rory Haye, Sita Pieraccini and Clare Willoughby.

If it’s difficult to say what it’s all for, perhaps that sense of pure, aimless enjoyment is exactly the point, for children and adults alike. Joyce McMillan

On tour to schools across Scotland, and to Stirling, Aberdeen, Paisley, Insch and Galashiels, until 29 September.