It’s a Scottish summer theatre season like no other; the weather is chilly, and the ethos, so far, is entirely online and outdoor, rather than marking any return to theatre buildings. Yet the season is happening, in a sudden avalanche of activity from theatre and performance companies; and nowhere more so than at this year’s Edinburgh International Children’s Festival, which began this week with a series of digital shows, and will also feature outdoor weekend family encounters in the Botanic Gardens, and at other outdoor venues across the city. This year, the EICF focusses strongly on Scottish and UK-made work; and at its centre are two fine new shows from Scottish-based artists, in Birds of Paradise Theatre Company’s Super Special Disability Roadshow (****), co-produced by Imaginate and crafted for the screen by Urban Croft of Glasgow, and Mixed Up (****), a project blending hip-hop dance and visual imagery created by Katy Wilson of Starcatchers, also working with Imaginate.
In the Roadshow, Robert Softley Gale and his brilliant co-creator – composer, songwriter and pianist Sally Clay – continue the exploration of the changing politics of disability that Birds of Paradise began, in rousing style, with their 2018 Fringe hit musical My Left Right Foot. This time around, Softley Gale and Clay play two veteran disabled performers who have been taking their upbeat roadshow about life with a disability around Scotland’s schools for the past 20 years. In this performance, though, they encounter two young online participants, Ollie and Oona, (brilliantly played by Oliver Martindale and Oona Dooks) who although they are only 10 and 7 years old, have their own story of disability to tell, and subject Rob to a severe critique, particularly aimed at his attempts to gloss over the pain of disability. There’s a tremendous song in which Clay sums up the agony of being the blind girl in the playground; and if the two generations can agree on relatively little, they seem to come together in their appreciation of Sally’s music, and in their joy at the possibility of becoming parents, and passing on some of their wisdom about life with disability to a new generation.
Mixed Up, in its final form, is a gorgeous hip-hop inspired short dance film with animated graphics, designed to reflect the shifting emotions of young people during lockdown, and featuring beautiful performances from Gabriele Bruzzesi, Ursula Cheng, Ursula Manandhar and beat-boxer Bigg Taj. It also comes accompanied, though, by a joyous film showing how this project has helped unleash the dance-power and sense of colour of primary school children in Edinburgh; encouraging them to express their complicated lockdown emotions, by exploring how music relates to colour, pattern and movement.
The EICF programme, which runs until 6 June, also includes fine filmed versions of Scottish children’s theatre favourites White and Potato Needs A Bath; and for those missing the many companies from beyond Scotland that normally appear in Edinburgh in late May, there’s also Removed (****), a superb monologue by Fionnuala Kennedy for Prime Cut Productions of Northern Ireland, in which Conor O’Donnell plays a boy removed into care with his younger brother, brilliantly evoking the long-term impact of the experience on his mind, his heart, and his life chances.
This week also marks the launch of this year’s Take Me Somewhere festival, Glasgow’s annual celebration of all that’s new and boundary-busting in live performance. This year’s festival – entirely online, and set to run until 5 June – is already breaking records, with more than 750 Festival passes sold to fans not only in Scotland, but across the world from Hong Kong to Mexico; and one of the highlights of the opening weekend was the digital edition of a new show by Glasgow-based artists Ivor MacAskill and Rosana Cade, a real-life couple who use the powerful and disturbing story of Pinocchio to explore the experience of Ivor’s recent transition from female to male. The Making Of Pinocchio (****) is a clever and absorbing film, full of reflection and self-revelation, powerful visual imagery and movement, and a profound sense of the force of Pinocchio as a story about a central character striving to be what he does not at first seem to be – a “real boy”.
Meanwhile, in Edinburgh and Pitlochry, the year-long Sound Stages season of audio drama continues with Jaimini Jethwa’s Hindu Times (****), a sometimes awkward but truly bold attempt to capture how it feels to grow up in working-class Dundee, but in a spiritual world still inhabited by Hindu deities such as Vishnu, Brahma and Lakshmi, who on this occasion find themselves inhabiting the bodies of three young Dundonians out on the lash, and trapped in the back shop of an Asian grocery store. And at Mull Theatre, outgoing interim artistic director Beth Morton signs off with a fine series of five Braw Tales (****), written by leading Scottish playwrights including Morna Young and Alan Bissett, and illustrated with gorgeous animations by a range of artists including Kate Charter, Gavin Glover and Nisan Yetkin. The mood of the stories varies, but in each there’s a sense of sorrow mixed with wonder, and determination; not a bad combination of qualities, perhaps, in a series of Braw Tales for these strange pandemic times.
For more information on Edinburgh International Children’s Festival, see https://www.imaginate.org.uk/festival/; for Take Me Somewhere 2021 see https://takemesomewhere.co.uk; For Hindu Times see https://lyceum.org.uk/whats-on/production/hindu-times or https://booking.pitlochryfestivaltheatre.com/events, and for Braw Tales see https://www.comar.co.uk/#showme[type]=.Whats-on
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