Theatre reviews: Super Human Heroes, Traverse, Edinburgh | Three Legs, South Side Centre, Edinburgh | Valentina’s Galaxy, Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh

Judith Williams, Ruth Janssen and Jon Bishop are Super Human Heroes
Judith Williams, Ruth Janssen and Jon Bishop are Super Human Heroes
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THE Edinburgh International Children’s Festival roars to an end this weekend, with the usual brilliant display of Scottish and international work. This year’s themes include family, ageing and vulnerability in general; and this year’s Traverse 2 show for 8 to 13-year-olds, by the Scottish company The Letter J, aims to tackle head-on the feelings of inadequacy today’s children can experience, faced with problems up to and including global climate change.

Super Human Heroes, Traverse, Edinburgh *** | Three Legs, South Side Centre, Edinburgh **** | Valentina’s Galaxy, Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh ****So in Super Human Heroes, three creator-performers led by Letter J founder Judith Williams – with musician and illustrator Jon Bishop and dancer-choreographer Ruth Janssen – play three flatmates determined to become superheroes, and to tackle the world’s 
problems. They don sparkly capes, put shiny new pants over their tights, and set off to change everything; but then one by one they crack under the strain of always being strong and always supposedly in the right.

It’s a fine concept, with an attractive design by Anna Orton; and Jon Bishop’s songs are often lovely. The show has slight problems of narrative shape and tone, as if it can’t quite decide whether to engage fully with the imagery of superhero culture, or just send it up, in a self-mockingly hand-knitted style; yet it still nonetheless deals lovingly and creatively with an absolutely vital theme.

Also in Edinburgh this weekend are the gorgeous Aaben Dans of Denmark, with a show for children as young as 18 months, and up to five.

In Three Legs, three brilliant physical performers, Ole Birger Hansen, Antoinette Helbing and Henna Kaikula occupy a lovely octagonal carpeted space in which they play physical games that the children in the audience love and identify with instantly. They climb on each other, lean on each other, pile up their hands;

and their faces and bodies are so eloquent that the movements never seem purely abstract, but also seem to be teaching us about friendship, rivalry, and dependence – and finally, also, about the loss of loved ones, as their connection with the physical world gradually fades away.

Meanwhile at the Roxy, the EICF revives the 2018 Science Festival children’s show Valentina’s Galaxy, in a new and more shapely form.

Performed this time around by Melanie Jordan and Joy Maria Onotu, this vivid Frozen Charlotte show about women in space – and the reasons why so many women think science is not for them – is set in a 1960s style kitchen, where the main character busies herself with domestic tasks. Something is stirring, though, among the kitchen appliances; and in no time, the room is transformed into the flight deck of a spacecraft.

This new Valentina’sGalaxy seems to me more suitable for four to seven-year-olds than for its target pre-school audience; but it remains a gloriously rich and colourful show, now with a script by Xana Marwick that gives extra force to a lovely production by director Heather Fulton and designer Katy Wilson.

JOYCE MCMILLAN

All three shows have final performances on 1 June, with an additional performance of Three Legs on 2 June.