Edinburgh Fringe 2018
If you’re looking for a nostalgic trip through childhood adventure with fun for all the family then look no further.
I’ll admit it, when I was a kid I was a total bookworm. I read everything I could. I used to keep a notebook where I would write down the names of every author and every novel along with the dates it was read so that I could make sure I didn’t miss any. I loved the smell of the paper and ink and would often sacrifice sleep for just one more chapter. Enid Blyton was, of course, highly featured on my list and The Famous Five were regular additions, their adventures a constant entertainment and marvel to me. Stage adaptations of such beloved classics are never easy but Gobbledigook Theatre have done an admirable job and created a highly entertaining show for all the family. From the moment you enter the theatre there is a joyous hustle and bustle as the actors greet the audience like old friends, chatting about anything and everything as the characters pack for a trip that no one really wants to take. Suitcases, boxes, and trunks litter the stage along with a wheelbarrow, a ladder, and other collected treasures. You get the impression that something substantial is about to happen even if you’re not quite sure what it is yet.
It’s hard to say when the play really starts, but all of a sudden we’re aware that things have moved on. A tug-of-war is in progress and there are kids straining at the rope alongside performers and parents – a joyous back and forth which brings us all together to the start of a new adventure both on stage and off. As the ambiance shifts we find ourselves in a box room full of luggage ready to be moved to a new home along with four anxious children trying to find a way to stop or at least slow down the inevitable journey of the moving men and as Sherlock Holmes used to say, ‘the game is afoot’.
It’s often at times like this that the split happens. The part of the performance where adults and children go their separate ways – at least as far as their enjoyment and interpretation. Productions affectionately tagged as ‘parent torture’ that wow children of all ages but have no connection or interest to their accompanying adults. The Famous Five does not require a tag. This is a show that entertains all the family from the smallest to the tallest with wit, vigor, and absolute commitment to quality from start to fun-filled finish.
Grand adventures can sometimes require grand elaborations – extensive set pieces and complicated lighting, intricate costuming, and intrusive sound. The Famous Five certainly does fill the stage with clutter, with almost everything but the kitchen sink, but everything has a purpose and a specific reason for existing in the world created for us on stage. Castles, sailboats, and underground caves are ‘discovered’ among the detritus and lovingly brought to life by a committed and energetic cast. Of particular note is the fifth of the five, their stalwart companion, Timmy – brought to life with a brilliant puppet and dogged determination from his handlers.
The language at times can be a little stilted with a little too much emphasis on accents and enunciation but perhaps this extends from a defined commitment to the original text and remaining true to Blyton’s stylistic character. For me, the story is timeless enough that a little updating and a more modern vernacular which would have made the connection to us all the stronger would not have taken away from the lovely afternoon of storytelling we all encountered and the glorious journey on which we all embarked.
If you’re looking for something a little bit dangerous, somewhat exciting, and completely adventurous, gather your companions, pack your lunch, and set your compasses to these coordinates. A fantastical encounter awaits you.