Edinburgh Fringe 2013
Sam carries a box of sad things… a ‘sad thing box’, and spends his days wandering the frenetic, anonymous and busy streets trying to open it and unburden its heavy despair. Ivan Rose lives a sweet little quiet life, enriched only by his innocent and vibrant sense of imagination, loved deeply but from afar by a fearful and protective father who is drowning in the pain of loss and grief unresolved. Openness to love and connection and joy in the present moment, of course, win the day – a story as old as Time but told afresh through a lovely confident narrative. Sam did indeed rise in the shadows; sometimes facing our darkest fears leads us to recognise our greatest strength.
I was accompanied by a tired, slightly grumpy 9 year old with a broken arm, who had travelled a lot recently and said to me that he didn’t really want to go and watch a show now…I was feeling pretty tired and fed up by this point too…I’m glad I didn’t listen to him, as the moment we walked into the Bedlam theatre we felt refreshed, revived and inspired by the lightness and gentle attentiveness of the cast of Sam Rose In The Shadows. The performance as a whole illustrated to me the possibility of the transformative and healing potential of theatre. We felt subtly nourished and lifted by the experience. I have been reflecting on it today as I was struggling to find the language to describe it well enough.
The plot is simple and archetypal, but the performance devices, the acting skill and heart felt performances of the cast as a unit made this piece complex in its beauty and theatricality. The story was performed with eloquence and utter commitment from the cast, who seemed strongly rooted in the story, cohesive as a group, highly skilled and very well rehearsed. The flow of their movements and stage crafting to tell the story were fluid, seamless. It was accessible, strong and clear – carrying the characters through to the edge of credibility, allowing the audience to comfortably suspend disbelief.
We were mesmerised by the visual delight of the show…the use of puppetry, lighting, stage props and voice is outstanding and the central characters come alive in a way that raises the quality of puppetry as a device. It was much much better than a high budget production we had seen previously. I kept sneaking a look at my 9 year old who looked like he was 4 again, eyes open in wonder and utterly still throughout. I loved the compelling image of Sam walking through the city, his rhythmic movement and melancholic sad looming figure riding disjointed through the loud and harsh world around him. The contrast of this with his sons perspective and the return to innocence and joy is a delight. We have watched many puppet based theatre productions together and this is our most memorable. I would watch it again.
As previously discussed in this publication, it is challenging to create stories that can touch both children and adults without using a contemporary ‘pixar’ dialogue, in other words without it being too popular culture, too adult for the young. Tucked in have managed to create something original that speaks to the whole family, grandparents down to the very young will find beauty, truth and meaning in this show, without any references to X-factor, Eastenders or Katie Price.
What makes this production outstanding is the quality: the quality of the acting – smooth fluent, joined up, and there was synergy here, a shared consciousness on stage. With puppetry that is a rare quality in children’s theatre. The combination of movement and live music was uniquely realised. So much detail to savour yet we never felt blasted by it. The variety of technique employed was outstanding yet that variety was never trying to be over complex or over-clever. If this were food it would be the best of French cooking – each detail done perfectly, naturally, as it is meant to taste.
My one piece of feedback would be to reconsider the scene towards the end, which might be a little too much for a very young audience. The dark being in the story had a fairly effective mask – I wonder if the production wanted to make it more accessible to all ages they might consider making this scene more etheric and less explicit. Saying that however, the moments of humour and the sweet innocence of Ivan helped to dissipate the darkness. Overall the story was gentle and gorgeous, perfect for all the family to watch.
There is so much more I could say about this production but I think it would spoil the treat of it – so just go and see it for yourselves.