FringeReview Scotland 2017
Gerhard Zucker was a German scientist who believed in rockets. Having emigrated to the UK and found himself on the island of Scarp, his first attempt in sending a rocket, filled with letters to Harris is far from successful. With music and movement, some love interest from a local young woman, fully integrated Gaelic and an incomplete history of the rocket we are taken on an adventure and a journey which does not end well but begins new beginnings as he tries again and is almost more successful.
Children’s theatre brings its own challenges and pitching things at the right level is certainly one of them. As we enter the hallway the cast are there to welcome us and talk directly to the children thus ensuring their engagement from the very beginning. The narrative structure allows for the story to flow and then breaks it up to ensure that people do not end up getting too bored. Through movement and some theatrical trickery which may be more standard than cutting edge but it is sold well. We are told the story from the isles as Zucker finds failure, deals with disaster, discovers the first flush of love, an island mum, Morag, meanwhile finds a way to reconnect and recommunicate with family whilst Bellag finds herself; all in the pursuit of delivering letters from one island, almost to another.
Interwoven into the story is the well known issues of island life – isolation, desire for a new challenge and the likelihood that the young shall leave. The grass is always greener on the other island is not a concept we would accept as being real but the issues for young Bellag are simple – she wants to move and Zucker represents that excitement. It’s a storyline in the play which is well worthy of exploration and helps the piece keep us in touch with its heart.
I found the history lessons a little less successful and could see some of our young rocketeers struggling a little with the dip in focus.
The use of music – loved Rocket Man – was much more successful and it seemed to enrich the performances as we got true ensemble playing and interplay between a highly efficient and creative cast.
I loved the use of Gaelic and especially as it was not explained! Clearly the authenticity of the speaking was assured and confident – prior to the show starting I overheard one of the cast talking to an audience member in Gaelic – and it reminds us that we are indeed a diverse country with communication at its heart. To be in Scotland watching a German in a Scottish home, feeling awkward as he does not understand the language being used, just like me, left me not excluded but reminded of how exclusions are not limited to popular political topics.
The set was functional. There was some clever theatricality but there was nothing startlingly clever, though it was hardly needed as the performances charmed sufficiently to allow the connection between audience and cast to hold a secure silence and then enjoy the whirl of the dance floor.
It was well directed and managed to give the young people – after all I was hardly the target audience – enough to hold onto and enjoy whilst truly learning.
Over all this was a great piece of theatre based upon a hidden and hardly known true Scottish story that was well worthy of a visit and development, leaving me content that the National Theatre sees itself fit to bring to the wee masses, the big dreams of the auld yins.