Children’s review: YurtaKids!
Edinburgh Fringe Scotsman review: YurtaKids! – UnLeashed_Scaténàti, 24583 Little Creepy Wonders, The Red Bike, A Story of a Man and His Shadow and YurtaKids! Presents Cinderella at Summerhall (Venue 26), reviewed by Matt Trueman
If you think a programme of European kids’ theatre in a yurt sounds like the most Guardianista-friendly event at the Fringe, well, you’d be right. One show – for the over-fives, don’t forget – concerns a workers’ revolution fermented via messages in Kinder Eggs. Another offers a feminist re-reading of the Cinderella story. All that’s missing is a sprinkling of quinoa.
Cynicism aside, however, the yurt proves a brilliant little space for kids theatre. It cuts out any of theatregoing’s formality and allows for a much more permissive atmosphere that doesn’t demand best behaviour. It’s a flexible space that plays just as well end-on or in-the-round. Kids sit on the floor, adults on chairs arranged round the edge, so shows take on an impromptu quality and this close to the action, you feel doubly involved to boot.
Programmed and operated by Italian company ScarlattineTeatro, YurtaKids! offers five different shows by three different companies – all Italian. They are all remarkably different – one’s sensory, another’s ghoulish, another still contains knockabout clowning – so the programme certainly rewards repeat trips. However, it is worth picking carefully: the quality varies as much as the tone.
First up each day is Scarlattine’s own UnLeashed_Scaténàti (***), a sensory attempt to conjure the sea and sailing aimed at the under-fives. From the first cleansing ping of handbells to the ripple of metal chains dragged slowly across the floor, there is a real sense of care and imagination here. Two performers, dressed in white and hanging off an onstage crow’s nest, invoke breathy winds and whooshing surf. A soothing soundscape, played live, and lighting effects convey shifting conditions: sun and rain, day and night.
Images emerge – telescopes and fishing rods made of metal chains – and hidden magnets add a touch of magic, but it’s best when most tangible as the audience, kids and adults alike, get to join in. A word of warning, though: that essentially involves, um, arming a roomful of toddlers with metal chains. Health and safety be damned; parents be vigilant.
Scarlattine’s second show 24583 Little Creepy Wonders (**) is a jovial, gothic piece of physical theatre staged in a haze of dry ice. White balloons become cartoonish puppets: one is birthed (string standing in for umbilical chord) and acquires a pair of hand-drawn fangs. We’re told he’s taken for a flea.
At school, he befriends Lala – known as the staring girl on account of her two googly eyes. Sunglasses and a scarf conceal their quirks from other balloon bullies, but slowly a sweet tale of self-acceptance emerges.
It looks great – traces of Tim Burton abound – and oodles of energy keep it watchable, but the poetic text isn’t always comprehensible, since young ears aren’t adept at decoding thick Italian accents. The story-telling is often rather too fuzzy to cut it.
This is not a problem that PrincipioAttivo need worry about. Their two offerings, both amusing and boisterous affairs, manage to smuggle big ideas into neat stories.
In The Red Bike (***), a family is a factory production line. Dad opens the plastic eggs, Mum inserts a toy and Grandma seals them up. Every penny they earn goes straight out on rent – back into the pocket of chocolate-and-property magnate Mr Moneybags. Until they hatch a plan: smuggling messages into the eggs to start a civil uprising, just as their son did to stress that he wanted a bike for his birthday. While it could use a sharper sense of slapstick and make more use of Dario Cadei’s beautiful shadow puppetry, The Red Bike gets kids thinking about the things they own without overloading its narrative.
A Story of a Man and His Shadow (****) is the pick of the bunch. Cadei plays a contented hermit; a Mr Bean-ish man who is afraid of his own shadow. And well might he be, mind you, given that his shadow (Guiseppe Semeraro) is a dark, beaked skeleton in a top hat, who creeps round the house like the Child Catcher.
What follows is a runaround piece of high-energy cartoonish clowning. Semeraro knocks on one door; Cadei opens the other. Semeraro turns up with a club; Cadei winds up with it and unwittingly hammers him over the head. It’s Road Runner-Wile E Coyote territory with a homespun aesthetic and heaps of imagination and invention. It toys with the rules of theatre really wittily – mime allowing the laws of physics to bend – and Leone Marco Bartolo’s live soundtrack ups the rhythms of these routines.
If ASOAMAHS is elevated by fun, Tonio De Nitto’s Cinderella (**) for Elektra Dance and Tir Danza is po-faced. A large white wardrobe – which occasionally threatens to fall over – dominates the stage. Out of it burst two cooing, big-bottomed ugly sisters, preening and plumping their chests vainly. Mum – played by a falsetto Fabio Tinella – urges her favourites towards marriage and money. Cinderella – insipid as ever – squeaks: “And me?”
It’s all thoroughly wholesome, but the problems are manifest: the grinding repetition of a structure that swaps one ball for three, the polite performances and the clunky scenography.
Worst, though, is the confused body politics – rare in kids theatre, admittedly, but all the more criminal when messed up. We get a bald, portly prince and lengthy, painful beauty regimes of waxing and plucking, but also a drag act playing a masculine mother and big-bottomed ugly sisters. Whatever would the Guardian say?
Originally published in The Scotsman