Theatre reviews: Melody & Sam | Prince Charming | The Whirlybird

Alice Mary Cooper and Ben Winger make a charismatic pair as Sam and Melody, though she's a bit of a bully
Alice Mary Cooper and Ben Winger make a charismatic pair as Sam and Melody, though she's a bit of a bully
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IF IT’S Easter, it must be time for the annual avalanche of Spring children’s shows; and in the Quaker Studio at the Pleasance, two childlike but ageless characters called Melody and Sam are in training. They seem to be chums or flatmates; but whatever its origin, their bantering, bruising relationship is focused on the idea of becoming record breakers, and getting their names in the big book of records.

The Pleasance, Edinburgh *** | Perth Theatre **** | Aberdeenshire Farmers Museum ***

So for absolute ages, Melody and Sam mess about in their flat first training for an attempt on the world record for eating beans with a cocktail stick, then – after Melody receives a mysterious letter from a world adventuring organisation – doing assorted forms of aquatic training which Melody insists are all about the attempt on the bean record, but which in fact have to do with her determination to get Sam to return to the island of his birth, which is being inundated by rising sea levels.

All of which is as clear as mud in the wretchedly-structured first half of the show. About half-way in, though, Melody sets off on her island-finding adventure, Mamoru Iriguchi’s giant story-book set suddenly springs to life, and the narrative acquires some real metaphorical energy, as Melody and Sam embark on an improbable but essential quest for a new, sustainable island life.

To the last, it’s not clear why Melody is such a lying, manipulative bully, and why this is OK; nor is the storytelling ever less than awkward. Ben Winger and Alice Mary Cooper make a charismatic pair as Sam and Melody, though; and with Caitlin Skinner directing, the show fights its way through to a memorable conclusion

Perth Theatre’s new show for children Prince Charming – co-produced with Little Angel Theatre in London – tackles the difficult subject of anxiety and depression among children and young people; and although Jenny Worton’s script sometimes threatens its own sense of focus by making its central character a depressed little Prince, who has to cope not only with the dragon-killing demands of royalty, and with the stereotype of being a “Prince Charming”, but also with the fact that he is only a puppet, it nonetheless guides its audience of 6-11 year-olds through a convincing list of fears, from the terror of the dark to deep questions of identity, with real humour and compassion.

The character of the troubled little Prince (brilliant puppeteer Nix Wood) is so beguiling, in Ross McKay’s subtle and generous production, that the story of his eventual liberation finally becomes impossible to resist.

The Whirlybird, presented by Eco Drama in association with Platform, Glasgow, is a show for much younger children, with even tiny toddlers reacting with squeals of delight to the gorgeous, colourful set by Claire Halleran – all leaves, twigs and berries – on which the show’s co-devisers Caroline Mathison and Beth Kovarik act out their tale of one songbird who learns to fly no problem, and one squawking bird that can’t fly at all, until it learns to imitate the little helicopter-like whirlybird seeds that fall from the sycamore tree. There’s some self-conscious acting-for-children, toe-curling for adults to watch but the smaller the children are the less they mind. Whirlybird offers a joyful 35 minute celebration of the richness of nature, of a kind that becomes more useful and relevant, with every passing day.

JOYCE MCMILLAN