Edinburgh Fringe 2014
The naughty twins, Holly and Sean, are delighted to have reduced their head teacher to a nervous wreck but are less pleased when they find the replacement is a Troll. A Troll given to spitting, making up very strange new rules and eating any child who displeases him. It falls to Holly and Sean to save their school and friends before everyone is eaten. Unsurprisingly the adults they approach prove to be of little help and they must find a way to deal with the Troll by themselves.
A family show aimed at 7+ but clearly enjoyed by all ages.
The new Paines Plough Roundabout sits in an unassuming tent in the courtyard at Summerhall and is delightful. It is a portable in-the-round theatre, the centrepiece of the company’s 40th anniversary programme and is ideal for a children’s show such as My Teacher is a Troll (although is not limiting itself to those).
Before the show started the three actors spend some time saying hello to individual children, asking if they are afraid of trolls and making it clear that they are actors and that what we are about to do is a play. They ignore the adults.
As has now become my habit when seeing a show for small people I recruited an appropriately aged assistant. My helper on this occasion was Amelia aged 7, and her grandmother, who kindly agreed to spend a few minutes talking to me after the show to tell me their views.
The play by Dennis Kelly has at least nine characters and several more who get a mention, all played by three actors, Andrew French, Abdul Salis, and Sian Reese-Williams, with tremendous energy and focus. They form a very strong team as they flick the narrative between them. The pace never drops and the 50 minutes passes in a flash.
The story concerns the naughty twins, Holly and Sean, who are delighted to have reduced their head teacher to a nervous wreck but are less pleased when they find the replacement is a Troll. A Troll given to spitting, making up new rules and eating any child who displeases him. It falls to Holly and Sean to save their school and friends before everyone is eaten. Unsurprisingly adults prove to be of little help and they must find a way to deal with the Troll by themselves.
The style is that of a dramatised story and uses no props, set or costume. The script is unusual in that none of the lines are attributed to specific actors and the storytelling moves between the three; with a character often played by each in turn. One effect of this is the way that key elements of the story are reinforced through repetition thus giving the young audience more than one chance to grasp a point.
The one character we never see is the Troll who has become head teacher – but we certainly hear from him! His voice, and a range of other unsavoury sounds he emits as he eats people, are all provided by the cast using a small hand held microphone.
Watching the children in the audience (one of the advantages of being in the round) I wondered if the younger ones – it is aimed at 7+ – were following it and were perhaps a bit scared. They all seemed to be sitting rigidly staring at the actors while their parents looked a little anxious. However, at the end, they had clearly all thoroughly enjoyed and left talking about different bits of the story. Amelia’s grandmother said that she was worried Amelia would be frightened by the Troll whisking his tongue out to eat yet another child. Amelia just laughed and said that was very funny! Clearly adults are far more sensitive.
Amelia’s view was that it was ‘very clever, quite funny’ and that it was ‘not too long, not too short’. She liked the fact that the actors didn’t use any props, saying that sometimes ‘there is too much stuff and you don’t focus on the play’ (there are some very thoughtful and analytical young people in our theatre audiences). She also thought the sounds were sound effects until she spotted the microphone; she thought that was a clever idea as well. Asked if she thought there was anything they could do better she thought for a long time and finally said ‘a bigger space’, although she also liked the fact that you could watch all of the actors and the action, that you didn’t have to keep looking around to see them all.
Apparently her school isn’t like the one in the story at all…