Edinburgh Fringe 2012
Vanquish evil knights with real battleaxes! A story ofAvalon provides the backdrop for Spotlights’ signature, interactive children’s theatre.
Spotlites Theatre Productions offer a unique brand of children’s theatre, which is interactive, evocative, educational and always packed with inventive special effects. Peter Pan on Dinosaur Island and Robinson Crusoe and the Lost Jedi Knight were both very good shows, engaging and fun. But Merlin’s Dragon has taken them up yet another notch because it allows them to draw on deeper, richer story material. Here we are in the realm of Avalon, of symbolism, of wizards and dragons.
Right from the first moment, expertly crafted lighting, an atmospheric musical backdrop, and a very poetic script combine to draw us into this historical and mythical realm very quickly. Not a child nor an adult in the house was distracted for a moment. Eyes glued to the stage, the characters and the unfolding story of good against evil.
Once again Rachel King and her team have produced a stellar piece of children’s theatre, that is able to meet children exactly where they are today – easily distracted, so in need of a bit of a spectacle and an accessible story, yet this runs into two halves, for over an hour, and though there is dry ice, plenty of battle and power play between characters, there is also careful and respectful treatment of myth and magic, there is mood, and a deliberate use of poetic language that keeps many a mouth wide open in wonder. Disney was nowhere to be seen or felt.
Spotlites’ shows involve a lot of interaction (always voluntary), where children can step onto the stage, into the action, but this is always done in a way that allows the story to flow. It is never stilted, and miraculously, doesn’t ever feel clumsy and is indeed, part of the narrative. And the children love it. Hands shoot up all over the place to be chosen and I think many an adult, (myself included), curbs an urge to call “Me! Me! Pick me!”. It’s all done with gentleness and generosity of spirit.
James Cowden acts as a kind of conductor for the play, and his warmth is a binding force in the production. Yet all three performers who play all of the characters are what give this piece the consistency it needs to not only hold a story, but also to give it depth and texture. We recently saw The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe at London’s Kensington Gardens for over fifty pounds a ticket. That production made clever and expensive use of special effects, including a lot of CGI and ingenious mechanics. The equally inventive, yet simpler effects in Merlin’s Dragon achieved the same sense of wonder, magic and mood for a lot less cash and achieved equal, if not more wonder and curiosity in the children. Particularly, the lighting became a kind of extra character evoking the spells, in tandem with some sometimes scary vocal incantations.
The costumes are all part of the quality and care for effect, along with a dragon who moves with grace that also invokes the Old Magic.
Sometimes the floor seemed to trip the performers and this jarred the flow a little. But this is a small detail in an otherwise outstanding childrens’ production. Outstanding for its ability to maintain flow in the face of a lot of interaction and audience involvement in a way that immersed us all in the narrative from first to last moment. Outstanding in its inventive use of non-CGI special effects combining carefully chosen colour, beautifully made props and costumes. Outstanding in its treatment and presentation of a story that had no hint of Pixar or Disney, that delved deeply into the mood of Arthurian Legend and took us all to a place of quality and mystical feel. Outstanding because a cast of three portrayed many more characters and made us believe they were all utterly different from each other. And, finally, outstanding because all of these ingredients joined up fairly seamlessly.
Spotlites have raised the bar on children’s theatre, and still plough a unique furrow in the world of interaction and involvement for children. Fluidly done, finely crafted, full-hearted and, most of all, utterly engaging in a nourishing way for the spirit of the child.