Festival review: Night of the Big Wind; Underbelly Cowgate (venue 61)

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IN AN Irish coastal community back in older, simpler times, villagers go dutifully about their business – filling oil lamps, shifting oars and beating fish over the head.

A fisherman, his flat cap dipped over his eyes, shares silent but tender moments with his young son – a lonely and frail looking lad “who dreams of doing it all someday” and shares a friendship with a sea bird which he can call by blowing a wooden whistle worn round his neck.

When a storm gathers – while Dad is at sea – you know things aren’t going to end well. But for who?

Told without speech through a blend of live acting, puppetry, music, song and sound-effects, Canterbury company Little Cauliflower’s follow-up to last year’s similarly excellent Street Dreams is a gorgeously detailed and gently moving piece.

While fundamentally aimed at young audiences (not too young – beware that its gets quite dark at points) the show offers plenty for adults to enjoy as well. I’d defy anyone not to get just a little nervous when the storm starts to blow.

The puppets – a wooden child with a heart-rendingly sad expression, and a complex-looking yet graceful hand-operated bird – are beautiful. The perspective zooms in and out dynamically – the fishing boat tossed helplessly on the seas is one minute depicted from afar in folded paper form, the next close-up by an actor clinging desperately to a wheeled table as it’s dragged around violently.

Every small element feels considered and resonant. Showing father and son hanging washing together at the beginning is a cleverly subtle way of hinting that the boy’s mother is no longer around.

It’s great proof of how wonderful puppet theatre can be. Told almost any other way, this simple little story wouldn’t be nearly as immersive and effecting.

Rating: * * * *

Until 25 August. Today 1:15pm.