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Just So Stories: Red Table at Edinburgh

Tuesday, 30 August, 2011

Captivating Children’s Theatre

Edinburgh 11 – Pleasance – 23 August

Three rows of stools sit behind a pile of duvets, cushions, pillows and soft toys.  The adults are head for the stools and the children head for the duvets where they get comfortable under the able supervision of Jennifer Hazel.

Sitting the children in such a fun and distracting environment risks sleep or hyperactivity but, from the initial first reveal where the company appear almost from nowhere through to the end where a whale’s mouth is captivatingly portrayed, Red Table are a dynamic and lively company who keep the children captivated.

The storyline runs through four of Rudyard Kipling’s Just so Stories.  The stories themselves provide a significant challenge moving quickly between location and character and with many fantastical events happening .  Wisely the script uses only very basic dialogue and focuses on simply telling the stories, enacting them with modified everyday objects such as umbrellas, bedsheets and socks.  Its not a new style of theatre but it is done with a great deal of focus and class and a excellent design from Mafalda Cruz.  The children are kept rapt, and the adults very impressed.

The production asks a lot of its performers but they deliver.  Well cast they complement each other.  Jennifer Hazel and Jo Wickham take on more of the narrative.  It is a difficulty task but they give the narration a great deal of energy and manage to portray the joy of the stories, they are also admirably willing to look foolish whilst playing talking elephants camels, whales and other fantastical characters.

Freya Parsons and Tressa Brooks complement them, taking on slightly more of the character work.  They are lively and well skilled performers and inhabit the characters well.  Equally committed to the children they communicate with them very well and have exemplary energy.

Children’s theatre is always a difficult balancing act.  It needs to be atmospheric but not frightening, engaging but not leading to anarchy, tailored to their young audience but disciplining them to listen and engage, finally, if a company is feeling ambitious they may even try to put in a few jokes for the adults.  The final story in the Just So Stories is the tale of How The Elephant got his Trunk, in which the young elephant gets repeatedly spanked for her curiosity about crocodiles before one grabs his nose and stretches it out into a trunk.  The adults are given a early nod with a spanking joke then as the story progresses the crocodile emerges from the duvets to grab the elephant’s nose and the children invade the stage to help the young elephant pull herself free.  At every stage, the production gets it right, the children are enthralled by the crocodile but not scared, the stage invasion is planned and controlled and the audience are in the reality of the show throughout.  It is a splendid moment from a company that (by this stage of the show) has very little left to prove.

I’ve been lucky enough to see a great deal of childrens theatre at this years Fringe.   None has impressed me so much as this delightful show which is very highly recommended.

Cast Credits: (alpha order): Tressa Brooks – Performer.  Jennifer Hazel – Performer.  Freya Parsons – Performer.  Jo Wickham – Performer

Company Credits: Director – Rafe Beckley. Technical Operator – Holly Marie-Hale. Producer – Nick J Field. Producer – Piers Beckley.  Assistant Producer – Holly-Marie Hale.  Designer – Mafalda Cruz Website -www.redtabletheatre.com

(c) George Maddocks

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