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Edinburgh Fringe 2010

The Last Miner

Tortoise in a Nutshell

Genre: Children's Theatre

Venue: Hill Street Theatre


Low Down

The Last Miner’s underground home is the setting for this puppetry-based story for children and adults. 


A mood is generated from the very start in this piece of puppetry story theatre that reminded me a little of The Lamplighter’s Lament. Positively beguiling, soul-touching visuals, an evocative soundtrack and human-made sound effects are quickly incorporated into the subterranean narrative as if they were not human made at all. This is a piece of visual storytelling, skilfully done.

Such care is taken with the smallest things – the settling into an armchair, the sipping of water from a cup, the switching off of a light, that a believable world emerges quickly from this wonderful attention to detail. Who is the last miner and why is he here? The explanation for this hints at past love, at the hiding from bringing the important, perhaps painful things to the surface – the symbols are woven in with subtlety.
There are often three responses of an audience to this kind of puppetry. The first are the little giggles of delight at how clever it all is; the second is the immersion in the imaginary staged world that emerges (stillness and open mouths) and the third is the attention to the story. Often if the first falls short, the third is either confusing or it means that suspension of  audience disbelief is not gained. I sensed that all three were achieved profoundly and quickly with the Last Miner. But you did have to sit forward and give it your attention or you might get lost in the visual feast.
Our puperteers are not neutral – they are doled up liked miners
with blackened faces and head torches and, given they are not involved in the narrative action, this feels a bit superfluous.
Also the shadow puppetry felt a bit too ill-defined and reliant on a
compensating loud musical score. The vocal work in that part was not up to the standard of the rest of the show.
Our central character is sympathetically drawn and that draws us to
him; we like him, we want him to find connection in the lonely
underground place, a place of cavernous echoes and water drips.
In a way, much of the mechanical infrastructure is a kind if reassuring, comforting companion. Oh and another lovely touch: hardly a word spoken throughout, and yet this show speaks movingly, humorously, beautifully and eloquent each and every moment.The show is full of pathos and it is a pity there was bit a single child in the audience on the day I attended. Overall, a highly recommended production in need of a little finessing.