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FringeReview Scotland 2024


A Tortoise in a Nutshell and Figurteatret i Nordland co-production, in association with Macrobert Arts Centre

Genre: Multimedia, Theatre

Venue: Macroberts Art Centre .


Low Down

The stage is set in the centre of the Macrobert’s main stage. It is a circle, slightly elevated, onto which are carefully placed the set of our drama – miniature cardboard town. Carefully, gingerly we follow our heroine who has a younger brother and a grandmother as the end of the world is literally nigh. Their home, created from boxes, with clay figures surrounded by an incredible depth of detail is highlighted by our guides through camera work and projection onto a screen at the back of the stage. Our four performers guide us along the streets of this hell, into the nooks and we hear the crabbit nature of people in fear. Eventually, after a long search for food, our heroine takes this back to eagerly share with her family. Eventually it is time to leave and the trek, highlighted by the visual painting of the journey is then undertaken by our heroine and her family until one by one they succumb to the tragedy that unfolds. Throughout we hear the voices of the characters, the live music of the team hidden amongst in the shadows as it ends with a beautiful coup de theatre which is our final hope springing eternal.


As a visual theatre piece this is beyond impressive. The intricacy of the puppetry, the massive attention to detail, the mind numbing numbers of clay figures to be brought out, displayed and then filmed is, by itself something of note. But in taking a Norse Legend – Ragnarök – updating it and putting it on a stage in a time when the burning of the world is very real, I found the narrative arc lacking in light and shade.

The script has a relatively simplistic path to tread. In a bleak urban landscape, our protagonists need to escape and go to where they think they shall be safer – a well-regarded family holiday home by the sea, filled with positive memories. Once anarchy begins to sweep their town, that escape becomes an inevitability. Grandmother plays the wise sage who tells her children and ourselves of how the end of the world shall play out as well as the path for them to take to seaside tranquillity. This is described whilst a live artists paints the journey on rolling paper. And for all the trickery of camera and perspectives, it was this visually and theatrically which really impressed me the most. On the journey they dropped off their grandmother at a former service station where there is a messiah speaking to their followers. She will stay to be “safe”. It is then followed by the appalling death of the younger sibling at the tree planted to remember their grandfather is an irony we can buy into whilst the joy of finding a playground and for a moment being children was the one and really only relief from the misery. And that is my point. I was looking for more of the highlights to deal with the misery. We did get the initial search which brought stolen mac and cheese, as well as that one scene of back being children, but it was not enough. The Norse prophecy of the world’s end with Snake Gods, Wolf Gods, the storytelling raven warning our heroine, the white moose which gets slaughtered are structurally strong as narrative key scenes and symbols, but to be more engaged, better horrified, more effectively warned, I needed more light to deepen my darkness.

But as a visual piece of theatre, it shall have few comparisons. The set, with a circular stage which became so much more after it was broken up, symbolically and practically is a triumph of design. As is the music. Given the narrative we were witnessing, the live performance of that music did more than haunt. It hung in the air like an oppressive symphony echoing the cries of despair and the impending doom of the ending. It was spectacular.

Of course, the ending of the piece as it is with Ragnarök, is rebirth. The set design gave us an unexpected green shoot which was a high point. It capped an inventive performance which was enhanced by the multi-media approach taken which was skilfully performed by our four onstage stage managers, scene movers, dancers, and camera operators. Along with the voices we hear over the audio system this was a technical triumph, showcasing the fact that visual theatre, puppetry, and the fusion of so much more is visually stunning, if it has the right hands to guide. As such, I may have found one thing to criticise but as the day has gone on and I have been further and further away from seeing the piece, I have become more and more impressed by an enchanting performance  piece which encapsulates all that is fantastic about visual theatre in Scotland. But I still would like some more light with which to be frightened in contrast.