Children's shows review: The Snail And The Whale

With its 20th anniversary looming in 2017, Tall Stories theatre company have spent an awful lot of hours ­creating work for young audiences.

A tiny snail longs to see the world, so she hitches a lift on the tail of a humpback whale
A tiny snail longs to see the world, so she hitches a lift on the tail of a humpback whale

Star rating: *****

Venue: Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33)

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Hours which taught them what works, what doesn’t, how to hold a child’s attention while entertaining the adult sitting next to them and, most crucially of all, how to tell a story.

The Snail And The Whale

In particular, Tall Stories have made an art of ­adapting Julia Donaldson’s picture books, a source material which is already strong – if not especially long, a challenge the company have risen to by constructing a wider storyline to cleverly hang Donaldson’s tale on.

About to head off to sea (again), Dad is saying ­goodnight to his daughter, referred to affectionately as “Little One”. Inevitably she doesn’t want to go to sleep – not just because children ­never do, but because she knows that when she awakes, he’ll be gone. And so he tells her their favourite story, of The Snail And The Whale, with the aid of an entire bedroom’s worth of set and props.

Which is where the real charm in this production lies. Father and daughter turn a row of tables into the ­humpback whale of Donaldson’s story, use an armchair for its tail, a blackboard easel to conjure up a school room, and two super soakers to replicate the firemen hosing down the beached whale (you can guess which direction those are pointed, much to the shrieking pleasure of the audience).

It’s as if there is an invisible sign hanging over the stage saying “try this at home”. You might not have the production values, but the loving relationship between parent and child, the shared love of a good story, and above all the fun are imminently doable.

The Snail And The Whale

Sitting to one side is a young woman with a violin, providing music and sound effects throughout. She’s also a touching reminder of how quickly time passes – she’s “Little One” all grown up, recalling her childhood, missing her father when he couldn’t be there, but loving the memory of when he was.

Until 21 August. Today 11:50am.