I Am Tiger, Perth Theatre ****
Plock!, Southside Centre, Edinburgh ****
Little Top, Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh ****
Since the huge success of his Vox Motus/National Theatre of Scotland show Dragon, back in 2013, playwright Oliver Emanuel has become something of a bard of bereavement and loss, particularly as it affects children and young people; and his new show I Am Tiger is a beautiful 55-minute solo piece that reveals the full skill, depth and eloquence of his recent writing on the subject.
Commissioned by Scotland’s children’s theatre organisation Imaginate and produced by Perth Theatre, in a beautifully-paced production by Lu Kemp, the show also boasts a truly stunning design by Jamie Vartan and lighting designer Simon Wilkinson, dividing the dark stage into a dozen bright, square floor-spaces receding into the distance, and veering up the walls; and in this disorientated and compartmentalised space, Chloe-Ann Tylor delivers an unforgettable performance as Laura, a teenager trying to grieve the death of an older brother who took his own life, but too stunned by disbelief to feel much beyond intolerable pain punctuated by a strange numbness.
Her life begins to change, though when her parents impulsively buy an illegal baby tiger to cheer her up; and as the tiger grows, Laura begins to learn to live both with the scale and ferocity of her rage, and with her own huge underlying strength. This time around, in Emanuel’s world, the animal force that expresses overwhelming emotion is real rather than mythical. Tigers, though, are always both; burning bright in the forests of our minds, and – in this exquisite performance, with powerful soundscape by Danny Krass and beautiful light-touch movement by Jack Webb – through a piece of total theatre full of anger, poetry and profound understanding.
I Am Tiger is aimed at teenagers over 12; but there’s also plenty of pure joy for younger audiences at this year’s Children’s Festival, not least in the gorgeous solo show Plock!, by the Grensgeval company of Belgium. The character on stage here is Jakob (performer Jakob Lohmann), a young man obsessed with the abstract paintings of his hero Jackson Pollock; and in a paint-streaked tented space, in front of an audience of adults and children all dressed in plastic boiler suits for protection, he proceeds – on a huge canvas on the floor – to try to imitate Pollock’s famously splattered style, and his intensely physical relationship with both canvas and paint. Jakob’s ever more desperate athleticism is both intensely comic when it goes wrong, and seriously impressive when it goes right; in a gloriously messy introduction to the possibilities of paint, and of the human body, that absolutely delights its primary school age audience, for a spellbinding 50 minutes.
Jakob’s ever more desperate athleticism is both intensely comic when it goes wrong, and seriously impressive when it goes right; in a gloriously messy introduction to the possibilities of paint.
There are more starry eyes, too, at Little Top, a circus show for babies and young toddlers first created in pre-pandemic times by Scottish companies Starcatchers and Superfan, and now at EICF before a six-week Scottish tour.
Set in a tiny big-top space beautifully designed by Becky Minto and lit by Michaella Fee, Little Top features three actor-dancers in a 35-minute sequence of scenes involving soft-ball juggling, gentle, dance-like acrobatics, and scenes using luminous hoops and a giant blue ball. The older toddlers are perhaps a little frustrated by the fact that they can’t join in, until the final play-session. For babies of around 7-12 months, though, this seems like a near-perfect introduction to the magic of theatre and circus; viewed by these tiny new people with an absolute, rapt wonder that touches the heart, and makes the spirit soar.
I Am Tiger at the Traverse Theatre, and Plock! at the Southside Centre, both until 11 May. Little Top at Assembly Roxy until 11 May, and then on tour until 25 June. Details at https://starcatchers.org.uk/work/little-top/#venues For more in the Edinburgh International Children’s Festival, visit www.imaginate.org.uk