Edinburgh Fringe 2010
Stella loves the stars and spends all her time gazing at them through her telescope. But one day her little brother Ryan goes missing, so she embarks on a journey through the stars to find him (and his bear). A well put together two-header, in need of some tweaking, but fun and interesting all the same.
Tall Stories are back with their latest offering ‘Twinkle Twonkle’, a story about a brother and sister and their exciting yet perilous adventure into space. Tall Stories are the company that has previously come up with such wonderful productions as ‘The Gruffalo’ and ‘Room on the Broom’, and it is no surprise that this new show is such high quality.
It has a lot going for it: Paul Curely (Ryan), and Nuala Cavanagh (Stella), both do a fantastic job in their roles as the central characters, and are talented audience ‘interactors’; the set is simple and effective, and opens up some great staging possibilities; the sound and lighting design is pleasingly transportational and atmospheric (in more ways than one); and the very idea of an adventure into space is a brilliant one for a children’s show– especially when the journey is achieved by extending a telescope as far as it will go, allowing the characters to climb directly into the stars.
However, wonderful as so much of the production is, Twinkle Twonkle unfortunately falls short of the magic of the company’s past shows. There’s one big problem with it, and that’s the age group it’s been pitched at. The billing is for ages 4 and up, and keeping kids as young as four interested, whilst at the same time providing something to entertain the older ones (and of course, the adults) is a tall order. Here’s where I think it misses: being about space, the show picks up a theme which many family shows have gone with this year, that of making science interesting and accessible to children.
The problem is, the type of science that the show tries to explain (the expansion of the universe, the big bang, and gravity on earth) is far beyond the comprehension of your average four year old. That’s not to say it isn’t creatively, and interestingly explained. But it was clear to me that a lot of the younger children weren’t quite following.
Conversely, I think those in the audience who were a bit older and more able to appreciate the explanations were disinterested by the show’s heavy use of nursery rhyme, and the young characterisation of Ryan. It is clear that in both of those elements there was the intent to provide something for the youngest ones in the group (the familiarity of nursery rhymes), and something for the older ones (science is cool kids!), but in my opinion it ends up as a bit of a ‘swing and a miss’ situation – rescuable certainly, this company has already proven itself of great things – but it’s not quite there yet.
Additionally there were several missed opportunities for exciting twinkly bits of set. With kids shows it tends to be the case that the more the audience is given to help them imagine the surrounds, the more they’ll be able to engage in what’s going on. Children are of course brilliant at making up imaginary worlds, but put them in a theatre and I reckon they just don’t realise that that’s what they’re supposed to be doing. A classic example can be seen through the standard theatrical device of gazing into the distance beyond the audience and describing the setting (e.g. ‘Look at that golden sun!’, pointing towards the tech box). I guarantee you, every single child will look around to see what there is to see.
Part of this is obviously just unfamiliarity with the theatre: there’s stuff on stage, so why wouldn’t there be stuff at the back? (And how come there never is?…) But it’s also because in situations such as that, children (thankfully) tend to do what they’re told. Show them something eye catching, and they’ll look at it. Point to something out of sight, and they’ll struggle to see it. But give them a little, and they’ll take a lot.
A physical outline of an idea will draw them in – just as long as they understand what it’s meant to be. A few fairy lights representing the stars is enough to spark the imagination – but without the spark there’s a danger they’ll be left confused.
Ultimately then, Twinkle Twonkle is good show with a lot of potential. Hopefully Tall Stories will keep working on it, and it will become the play it should be. In the mean time however, it is still worth a look.