Theatre reviews: Small Wonders | This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing

Rehanna McDonald, Kim Allan and Betty Valencia in This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing PIC: Jane Hobson.
Rehanna McDonald, Kim Allan and Betty Valencia in This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing PIC: Jane Hobson.
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The idea that children’s imaginations are special and powerful has been around in theatre ever since the first performance of Peter Pan; but it has surely never been expressed more vividly than in Punchdrunk’s enthralling show-cum-installation Small Wonders, now in residence in Edinburgh in the run-up to this year’s Edinburgh International Children’s Festival.

Small Wonders, The Warehouse, Elizafield, Edinburgh *****

This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing, Byre Theatre, St Andrews ****

In a warehouse off Newhaven Road, we find ourselves – an audience of excited seven- and eight-year-olds, plus a few adults – ringing the doorbell of what looks like an ordinary flat. The door opens and Nanny Lacey appears, followed closely by her harassed-looking daughter Bella. Nanny Lacey is keen to share her stories; and in no time we’re all gathered in her cosy, cluttered living-room, admiring the dozens of miniature tableaux she has made out of pieces of scrap, to embody her best stories. It’s a skill she learned from her mother and grandmother and, before long, Nanny has enlisted the children into a rock-solid alliance with her, in the battle between the transforming power of the imagination and the joyless rules of supposedly sensible adulthood.

In this thrilling production by Tara Boland, Peter Higgins and writer Nessah Muthy, that battle plays itself out in unforgettable style, as the children help Nanny to make one last spectacular journey, and also to restore Bella’s lost faith in magic. In a production with two alternating casts, I saw Liz Watts-Legg give a truly irresistible performance as Nanny, welcoming us into designer Kate Rigby’s meticulously made world, which highlights both the strength of the imaginative bond between the old and the very young, and its power to remind us all of life’s magic, and its value.

A family of strong women also features in this year’s first ever Imaginate commission from Scotland’s female-led company Stellar Quines, whose Scottish premiere of Finegan Kruckemeyer’s acclaimed play This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing tells a story of sisterhood, and of triplets who each react very differently when their widowed father abandons them, aged 13, to make their own way in the world.

One travels eastward in hope, one travels west in grief and anxiety and the third stays exactly where she is in the forest. It’s a show, in other words, about three different female journeys through the crucial years between 13 and 33, all made easier by the knowledge that somewhere in the world there are people who will always love and support us.

In Jemima Levick’s production, with fine songs and sound by Novasound, it’s told with passion and delight by Rehanna McDonald, Kim Allan and Betty Valencia, with Ewan Somers as their father, found and forgiven, in the end, for the broken heart that made him send his daughters away, into a wide and waiting world. - Joyce McMillan

Small Wonders is at The Warehouse, Elizafield, until 2 June. This Girl Laughs... is on tour across Scotland until 25 May, and at the Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, from 28 May until 1 June as part of the Edinburgh International Children’s Festival