Edinburgh Fringe 2019
Our two narrators, Mirth and Mettle are in place to guide us through the story of a rat, Adelaide Worthing with no tail. We have the forest amongst us, the bush onstage and a variety of woodland characters who try and help Adelaide realise that being different makes her, her, rather than trying to be just the same as all the other rats. By the end of the story, of course, she makes the connection and she can continue to do what she does best – be herself.
We enter to the narrators onstage with the hedge and a puppet bird in hand whilst the trees are scattered around the audience. There is an air of simplicity to the beginning which continues throughout the play. There are not narrative leaps but what we do get is a series of characters who have something that marks them out as being different. The owl seems overly forgetful, the squirrel overly cautious, the hedgehog overly anxious and the fox appears to be all male but with a feminine name. They are brought into our focus enough to make us see them but not dwell on them. This adds to the feeling that we have a rounded storyline with characters who have more to give; it intrigues.
Where it is a little less intriguing are the in jokes which the audience of theatre folk can enjoy but those who perhaps are more likely to want to know where their next fruit shoot is coming from, less so. It does, however, open up a few interesting possibilities. Whilst the gag with the trees not getting onstage is a good one, perhaps them sneaking onto the stage could be developed so we have a physical manifestation of the idea rather than just the moans around us.
As for our rat, Adelaide who is different, we have clearly got a rat with a problem. They have no tail. She is played well and ably supported by a group who are wholly invested in a piece of children’s theatre despite being a little beyond the target audience’s age.
Asking a group of actors who are very young to play to a young audience is a tough gig. The audience can be unforgiving and the abilities of those onstage can be limited if things begin to wane. Here we got actors who had been through several runs of the piece and had obviously found where the valleys and peaks were. They have an innate ability and at times, given that we have a children’s story, I felt they could have been challenged a little more.
I also thought the direction could have been bolder. Some sections of the piece had actors being very static and it needed more movement. It also could do with an injection of pace too. When the stage management of the scenery changes were happening, there appeared to be so little in that limited space to move, perhaps more interplay between people would have been more engaging, for example. The issue of the door at the side of the stage and entrances that came from there were a also little irritating, though excusable given the limitations of the playing space.
The costumes and the effects were tremendous. In particular this was a piece where the theatre arts – especially the costumes – gave such a great fillip to the production that bolder direction would have really made it more rounded as a theatrical experience.
The young cast though, must take a lot of credit. 11am slots are tough. Children’s audiences are tough. They pushed and gave their all and admirable though that may sound, it was their creativity that made the 40 minutes or so zoom by and for that they deserve great credit.