Edinburgh Fringe 2016
“Battle the English with real claymores! Pelt rocks at soldiers with Mirren! Fight for freedom with William Wallace! Professional interactive theatre for kids who don’t just want to sit still and watch! Unjustly imprisoned by the Sheriff who killed his father, Wallace escapes to the woods. His friends gather to begin a deadly guerrilla warfare against the tyrant knights and free Scotland”. This new production from Spotlites, penned by Rachel King, has all the hallmarks of their movie hero mash ups – the chance for the children to help on stage, but this time we have a pure historical story, and the show is all the richer for it as a production.
William Wallace led the Scottish rebellion against Edward I and inflicted a famous defeat on the English army at Stirling Bridge. He is remembered in Scotland as a patriot and national hero. (Source here). Spotlites Theatre Productions offer a range of shows for children at the Edinburgh Fringe. This year they have revived Robinson Crusoe and the Lost Jedi Knight. Mixing movie hero’s with well known adventure stories, combined with their signature form of audience involvement, Spotlites shows delight children who can watch, get involved and witness a story containing character they know well.
This year Rachel King has taken a more pure and refined approach, penning the story of William Wallace and telling us the story of “Braveheart”, delving into Scottish history, instead of the worlds of film and classic books.
Spotlites have become well known (and well regarded) at the Fringe for their unique approach to children’s theatre with epic shows that follow a Hero’s Journey, inviting children to join in with the action on stage. “Who want to help me?” has become the catch phrase of Spotlites’ carefully and lovingly crafted theatre adventures. Mixing film and book themes and characters the shows captivate the children and their parents are usually to be seen wishing they were younger and able to join in too. They certainly get vicarious delight seeing their children so engaged in the story.
Braveheart takes us to historical Scotland and finds characters that are equally compelling and we find a satisfying tale, a rounded-story that offers heroism, comedy, tragedy and explores themes of loyalty, destiny and the choice between always reacting with the sword, and when it is wiser to be patient and use your head! It’s a well written script, with strong and consistent acting performances. Many in the audience for these shows have no idea that the many characters are played by just a handful for actors. The cast work their socks off, scene and characters changes occur within seconds and most in the audience are non the wiser! Much of the genius of a Spotlites show takes place quietly in the background. At the heart of all shows is a quietly confident ethos, a message that we are better and stronger for the help we give each other.
The Fringe can be a cold-hearted and cynical place. One thing I have noticed over the years is that some reviewers are irritated by plays that contain moral messages. And the “Who wants to help me?” approach taken by Spotlites is an approach that models collaboration as an important value in the world. Each time it is uttered, there is an invitation to the children to experience themselves as members of a wider community. We are stronger if we reach out beyond ourselves and offer help and respond to invitations of help. This is part of the genius of the Spotlites approach. The invitation to help is never forced – the children make a free choice. to put up ther hands and get on stage where there is a needed task to be achieved. And those hands do shoot up with eager looks on the faces of the audience – Pick me! Pick me! It boosts confidence in the kids. By the end everyone has had the chance to get involved. We’ve all had a go! But, at heart, it’s a moral quality at the heart of this kind of theatre. The story needs us, the characters call us to assist them and we realise the story progresses better when we join in. No one is embarrassed; it is all done with a warm gentleness. It is stronger for that gentleness, and some reviewers are cynical about that warmth with its underlying ethos of community.
Personally I value it highly; you can see many parents glad, even relieved, that their children – in a self-centred world – are putting up their hands and wanting to be chosen. Rachel King has created a very clever parallel here. The story of William Wallace is the story of a downtrodden people re-awakening their “brave hearts”. This is achieved through faith that we have a destiny. We are offered the gritty reality of sword fights and the sad deaths of our friends and loved ones. The English are painted as a dark people, deceptive, selfish and cruel. The Scots are presented in a more noble way and, ultimately, a people who are loyal to each other; it is the power of community that makes them strong; community and trust in noble leaders.
We are even offered the suggestion that those who live their lives with brave hearts, will enter a place of light after death, and they are waiting patiently for us to join them. We witness the culture of the Celts through the use of Celtic language among our own English Language, the set uses light and scenery is an intelligent way to invoke the misty glen – a landscape of hiding places and proud-standing castles.
Another big strength of the production is the blend of serious themes with comedy, well choreographed sword fights, and plenty of opportunity for the entire audience, even grown ups, to immerse ourselves in the story. It mixes intelligent dialogue with knockabout physicality. We have ideals, fears and hopes; but we also have the real, physical world to contend with.
The show is still bedding into the venue. This is a very long performance space and I’d recommend you to sit near the front to get a full view. I’m sure as the company learns the potential and challenges of the venue, they’ll make adjustments.
Overall this is important, unmissable children’s theatre, that tells a tale, but goes further, it demonstrates the value of helping each other, and realising that our hearts become braver through those around us. A must see show.