Edinburgh Fringe 2010
Billed as a fairytale for all ages, Belt Up’s Octavia concocts a delicious enchantment of physical theatre, pantomime and just a little welcome weirdness. Octavia is a welcome incursion for this young company into children’s theatre; their blend of magic and enthusiasm makes it an audience they should return to delight again and again.
For the last two Edinburgh Fringe seasons, Belt Up Theatre have made their mark on the Edinburgh stage with their innovative, edgy brand of theatre. Their first children’s show, Octavia, is full of their usual mix of surreal imagery, bursting exuberance and audience immersion.
As we enter down the fire-blackened stairs deep into the heart of the House Above in C Soco, there is little that prepares us for the world of magical enchantment that lies ahead. Once inside, the performance space is a magical fairytale land created with a charming raggle-taggle cornucopia of flotsam and jetsam, hanging with lanterns and netting like some enchanted picnic.
In Octavia, as with their adult shows, you are right in the heart of the action. Sitting among the actors on cushions and sofas, we are transported to a land beyond the sea. The ramshackle collection that forms the set and props is effectively used to conjure up castle ramparts, the sea and magical forests. And the audience becomes a very active part of the show.
Octavia is a fairytale princess born on the eighth day of the eighth month. She lives in a kingdom bounded on three sides on land and sea but with a wall at its northern boundary that keeps its enemies at bay. In this tale, loosely based on Cornish folklore, Octavia has a strange other-worldly affinity with the sea. When called upon by her mother to restore peace to the kingdom, Octavia calls on Mariana, the sea queen, and undertakes a quest that takes her through the forests and lands of Kernow and Lyonesse, and out beyond the wall. There, she meets a prince with whom she falls in love and whose life she saves by giving her own to restore peace and unity to the land.
The young six-strong cast put in a strong ensemble performance. Veronica Hare makes a particularly striking contribution as princess Octavia with a mixture of wide-eyed innocence and inner strength that allows her to transform her character from the young child at the start of the story to the princess whose self-sacrifice at the end is the key to reconciliation and peace in the kingdom. Mr. and Mrs. Heinzel (Dan Wood and Sarah Gordon) are our pantomime style narrators who guide us through the action with humour and gusto.
And then there are the kings, the soldiers, the sprites, a cast of many enlisted from among the audience. As always with Belt Up, this is done with charm and ingenuity; somehow rather than the nerve-racking apprehension induced by much audience participation, with Belt Up’s immersive style the audience enjoy becoming a very active part of the action.
While Belt Up once again impress with their energy and imagination, there are times when the script fails to quite hit its target. Many of the jokes are pitched more at the adults in the audience than the children. Nonetheless, the children sat wide-mouthed and spell-bound throughout and were willing foot-soldiers and elves.
It’s really rather hard to imagine anything by Belt Up that wouldn’t be worth watching.