Brighton Fringe 2018
On the tin it says… “An original, heartwarming play for young children and their families, full of good humour, adventure and song.
Fun-loving little Swiss puppy Oskar, snowbound in the little house on top of the mountain for weeks and desperate for a game, goes out into the forest to find a friendly animal to play with.”
Oskar likes owls, marmots, grandmothers, digging, and singing. He doesn’t like foxes, or falling down deep holes. All is set for songs, digging, fox chases, owl noises… and more digging.
“Oskar’s Amazing Adventure” had a very healthy audience at the Komedia in Brighton.
Oskar is a lovable puppy, living out life in a seemingly Alpine part of the world, possibly Austria, possibly Germany. I missed exactly where. I discovered later it might be Swiss. Oskar (played by a soft toy, given life by Theatre Fideri Fidera performer Natasha Granger) meets a myriad of other creatures on his adventures across this landscape. Among them, he meets, and I’m sure I won’t give too much away, a (hungry) fox, a marmot, an owl, and of course a grandmother.
Just two minutes into this story, my four-year-old said “I like this show!”.
The performer, Natasha Granger, has incredible energy, and the entire piece is very well choreographed.
There is a lovely simple set consisting of a tent like structure, with an alpine mountainous backdrop behind it.
The tent thing is flexible, a sort of tetrahedral pyramid, which can be turned to offer us a hearth and fireplace, a snow-covered mountain, a deep hole in the ground, and later a springtime meadow. The snow-covered mountain has a sweet little chalet to top it, lit from within.
Soon into the performance we get our first song, which Natasha sings with aplomb.
The children seem mostly very focused, Natasha has strong projection and intensely good diction.
There are many lovely moments, including using German language in the story (which works for my half-German daughter); meeting an Owl (whose big yellow eyes open when woken); being encouraged to sing, to call out, and to point out where Oskar is, or how to wake the owl.
My daughter was smiling a lot. We all enjoy the simple and nice touches, including the footprints in the snow shown us on a nifty drop-down white material scroll.
The grandmother appears again and, in shawl and snow shoes, she is large, imposing and quite unforgettable.
A beautiful and simple shadow puppet shows Oskar falling down a deep well/hole and landing on a marmot. My daughter loves it when the performer runs into the audience and thinks it’s very funny. She enjoys being included in the audience being invited to be sleeping / snoring relatives of the marmot.
Another (all too brief) sweet moment as we see a little night scene of the chalet atop the mountain with moon and night-lit fir trees. The soft toy animals are all very alluring, and a nest is simply turned from one full of eggs to one full of chicks.
We are encouraged to join in the next (digging) song. This song is easier to join in, plenty of repetition, plenty of action, getting faster and faster, the children love it. Alongside being educated (a bit) about marmots.
The best bit comes at the end when suddenly all the boundaries are crossed, the stage masking-tape line is crossed, the children invade the performer’s space, and the digging song is repeated. She allows it, responds to them more humanly, enjoys them. It’s a lovely moment to end on.
It’s true that Natasha has incredible energy, verging on the tad manic and hectic, almost exhausting energy. Trying to fill a stage and entertain a lot of children, alone, is no small ask. But she held them!
And although every move is well worked out, at least a little space for responding to the children or to the moment would perhaps not go amiss. Apart from set pieces of audience interaction, actually spontaneous speaking to and listening to the audience was limited, which seemed sad, as there was much enthusiasm and Natasha had the audience fully on her side.
Perhaps time limits made this difficult? Responding to the moment is also made harder when you’re singing to recorded music. Including a little bit more call and response or something like it could increase audience involvement during the first song.
Natasha’s voice is very crisp, pretty much all the time, almost harsh. It is very powerful, piercing and quite intense. Relentless.
I’m not sure if it was about being constrained by time, or being nervous, but a little more stillness, and calm wouldn’t lose the audience. At times I wanted the whole piece to be gentler, softer, kinder. One child had his hands over his ears. I understood why.
I also yearned for more actual plot. I found it hard to follow what was supposed to be happening, and why.
We enjoyed grandma coming and dusting the audience, but Natasha could trust that what story there is could be allowed to hold the children’s attention. Sometimes just more stillness, calm… and wonder, is enough to do the trick.
Or perhaps.. trying to hold attention with high energy and being constantly and rather insistently loud might say something about what the plot isn’t quite doing?
Either way… Sometimes less is more.
My daughter came away very happy however, saying how much she had enjoyed the show, after stating categorically beforehand how she didn’t “want to go to any show!”
Oskar and Natasha certainly brought her round.
Thank you for that, the intense commitment to the performance and the clear amount of work that’s been put into it.