Camden Fringe 2011
Isobel is a young homeless girl who has lost her mother and grandfather. She lives in the year 2190 where there are no trees or in fact any nature at all due to human occupation of earth wiping them out. All that remains is junk and very hot sun and very little water. Without the trees feeding oxygen to the world people have it in canisters. Using a innovative selection of percussion music orchestrated by The Living Junk Orchestra, and coupling that with storytelling and physical theatre and dance Isobel’s Tree shows up the world’s scary environmental flaws whilst trying to engage the audience with funny characters who accompany and teach Isobel on her journey back through time to see when trees came and went.
Whilst this is an admirable subject matter and definitely one that needs to be showcased to children if we are to keep our world clean and pleasant to live in in the future, Isobel’s Tree doesn’t quite engage the young audience because it is overly wordy and lacks focus. It is broken up with Stomp like dance sequences (unsurprisingly because the founder of the company toured with Stomp) which fracture the story completely, rather than moving it forward. The subject matter is very stern and preachy and though there are some jokes it just seems to go slightly over the heads of the children who were in the audience. Even the adults were slightly struggling to piece together all the components. In saying this however the spirit of the performance from the stellar and enchanting Living Junk Orchestra, manned by the very talented Saul Eisenburg gave the production some of the heart and soul and charm it needed.
The props, a bunch of rubbish essentially utilised as props plus some wonderful painted boxes with metal frames in different shapes which were used innovatively to create various forms of transport including a car and a boat as well as a totem poll and finally a beautiful man made tree. If however you are going to turn the stage into a junk yard go all the way with it. It felt a little be half done. With more rubbish and more use of the props around them Isobel’s Tree could hit a whole new level of innovation.
Isobel’s Tree, one of the children’s productions in the Camden Fringe this year has elements of sheer brilliance coupled with moments of pure flummox.
The characters of Spanner (Dave Hyett) and Crank (Louis Labovitch) have some lovely moments and they manage to whirl the story along at a fast pace, however the jokes are really too sophisticated for an audience of children. I am all for not dumbing down to kids, but a lot of this stuff went over not only the heads of the children but also in parts the adults. Isobel played by Cheryl Burniston definitely looked the part and at times was engaging and indeed charming, however her character lacked depth and this is more due to the slightly obvious direction. Though it may not have been intentional and they seem to mean well the content of Isobel’s Tree became quite biblical in parts and often felt condescending and patronising.
On the flip side of this the animation (designed by Adriano Vessichelli) used in this production is sophisticated and innovatively produced. There is a lot of potential in a work like Isobel’s Tree and with a bit more workshopping and perhaps a few chats to some kids about what they do and don’t know about this topic this team may just have something quite exciting on their hands.