After the painful trial-by-threatened-funding-cut they have endured this spring, it would be a fine and satisfying thing to give a rousing welcome to this latest show from Scotland’s premier producing company for children and young people, East Lothian-based Catherine Wheels.
Eddie and the Slumber Sisters ***
Corn Exchange, Haddington
Where’s Lulu? ***
Oran Mor, Glasgow
The Ephemeral Cabaret ****
After the painful trial-by-threatened-funding-cut they have endured this spring, it would be a fine and satisfying thing to give a rousing welcome to this latest show from Scotland’s premier producing company for children and young people, East Lothian-based Catherine Wheels. Co-produced with the National Theatre of Scotland, Eddie And The Slumber Sisters is a show with a great concept, an exciting immersive set by Karen Tennant, and a Scotland-wide tour ahead of it. If its subject is currently a familiar one in children’s theatre – how young children cope with bereavement – it’s undeniably an important theme, beautifully handled here by Chiara Sparkes in the central role of young Eddie, who has just lost her gran.
The show’s problem, though, is that its storyline is so fractured and multi-layered – a complexity reflected in what is sometimes an over-elaborate set, full of bells and whistles – that the narrative doesn’t really take hold until almost half-way through its 80-minute length. The central conceit of Anita Vettesse’s script is that Eddie cannot sleep, because no-one is talking to her about what has happened; so she falls into the care of the Slumber Sisters, an Andrews Sisters-style group of cosmic close-harmony singers whose job is to improve the dreams of unhappy children.
What emerges from this idea, though, is a script with not enough of that close harmony, too much exposition, a lack of real explanation, and one or two minor subplots as time-wasting as they are irrelevant; all filtered through three performances, from the Slumber Sisters, that sadly lack the performative flair shown by the director, Gill Robertson, in the show’s brilliant pre-publicity pictures.
That Eddie And The Slumber Sisters has the potential to become a better show, as it travels around Scotland, is not in doubt; the final half-hour is riveting, and at times very moving. To reach its potential, though, it needs some sharp cuts, and much more stylish and pacey performances.
In Danny McCahon’s Where’s Lulu? at Oran Mor, by contrast, the question is not so much how the play should tell its story, as whether it really has a story to tell. Set backstage at the Eurovision Song Contest of 1969, it aims to show us the former teenage Glasgow diva at a turning point in her career, when – aged 20, and newly married to Maurice Gibb – she was trying to renegotiate her relationship with her manager, Marion Massey, and shape her own musical career; to say that she is not a fan of her Eurovision-winning song, Boom Bang A Bang, is an understatement.
Having set up this interesting situation, though, Danny McCahon seems unsure where to take it; the conversation rambles around a bit, wanders into the badlands of the conflict between Marion Massey and Lulu’s mother, Betty, and ends up in a fairly saccharine conclusion. The play is blessed, though, with a terrific central performance from Stephanie McGregor as Lulu – young, fraught, a little culturally confused after five years in swinging London, but possessed of a true belter of a voice, capable of turning even Boom Bang A Bang into a song worth singing, and a Eurovision winner on the night.
Meanwhile, in that area of theatre where story hardly matters at all, the Roxy in Edinburgh is playing host this weekend to a fascinating festival of clowning, drawn together by the remarkable Scottish-based performance artist Saras Feijoo. Over three days, the Festival is set to offer a vivid series of performances and workshops, featuring Feijoo herself, the returning Scottish-born clown Johnny Melville, and leading Brazilian clown artist Ricardo Puccetti.
The festival opened on Thursday evening with a chance to experience Puccetti’s Ephemeral Cabaret, 90 minutes of inspired improvised physical comedy driven by five simple objects left strewn around the stage and, above all, by Puccetti’s interactions with the individuals who happen to be in the audience that night. It’s bold, it’s touching, it’s immensely skilful, and if the rest of the festival measures up to the brilliant mark set by Puccetti, it should be well worth heading for the Roxy today, for a few hours of escape into a world where human vulnerability somehow ceases to be a weakness, and becomes the common stuff of humanity, comedy, and joy.
Eddie And The Slumber Sisters is on tour across Scotland until 3 June; Where’s Lulu and Edinburgh Contemporary Clown Festival, runs ended