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William, performed by Shona Cowie

Friday, 26 August, 2011

Brave and delightful storytelling for children

Edinburgh 11 – C Venues eca – 3 – 29 August. 11.30

William is a single performer piece focusing on storytelling designed for children of five years and older.

Shona Cowie is sat in the centre of the space with a suitcase, some paper and crayons.  As the children file in she calls them to her and invites them to sit on the floor and draw on the sheets of paper.  They are asked to draw the cover of a book thats called ‘William’, and as the piece progresses to keep drawing what they see and hear.

Initially the children are drawn into the piece by simple interactions.  They make the sound effects for the cars and shout about sea monsters, Shona ques these sounds with both gestures and spoken lines of dialogue.  Its a clever device that is both a fun game and a story telling tool.  Initially reticent the children warm to Shona and soon are enthusiastically joining in.  From this platform we are taken into the body of the story.

Shona Cowie is a talented performer who takes care not to patronise her young charges.  Creating characters and locations using only her body and the suitcase she keeps the young children enthralled throughout.  What is exceptional is her ability to keep characters natural rather than exaggerated and her willingness to portray the bad in characters – her portrayal of Williams mother is refreshingly harsh for a piece of children’s theatre.

Whilst Shona allows the children to define certain sections of the story there is a narrative that carries it from start to finish.  This narrative is preoccupied with the joy of reading, the magic of storytelling and the importance of helping others through their fears and problems.

This narrative is both the pieces strongest feature and its greatest weakness, the use of metaphor within it is astounding and the message that it is looking to impart into the children is powerful and deeply essential.  However, having made so much of working from the children’s input sometimes the dense story can seem a little artificial.  Also, whilst the narrative says something fundamental about the joy and power of stories (and is moving beyond belief on occasion), it feels more essential for the children than wonderful for them.

Once the storyline is finished there is a magical but very simple reveal – Cowie opens the suitcase and it is stuffed full of all the stories that the children who took part before us drew on their sheets of paper.  It’s a delightful end to a wonderful and brave piece of theatre that may not amaze children in the moment of its performance but is likely to remain with them many years to come.

Shona Cowie – Performer

Company Credits: Designer, Director – Shona Cowie. Writer – Alexander Wright. Technical Operator – Sian Parsons.  Company – The Flanagan Collective. Website – http://www.theflanagancollective.co.uk

(c) George Maddocks

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