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Edinburgh Fringe 2012


Tortoise in a Nutshell

Genre: Storytelling


Bedlam Theatre


Low Down

A bitterweet story of children affected by conflict told through puppetry and props. Clever, humorous and poignant, this touching play explores the reality behind the lens of the photojournalist.


Set during the two Iraq wars, as well as other recent conflicts in Africa and the Middle East, Grit explores the experience of war through the lens of a photojournalist recording the events, and through the eyes of children at different ends of the war spectrum – those drawn into the conflict as child soldiers and those left behind while an absent parent reports back from a far-off, war-torn land.

The drama is expressed through the use of puppets, projected images and a range of boxes and naïve cut outs. The set is deliberately minimalist with a bare, black backdrop and sparse props that morph into different objects for different scenes.

Much of the story is hinted at, rather than made explicitly clear, and the audience is left to work out the relationship between the characters from a number of audio and visual clues. Other than the commentary of the war photographer there is virtually no dialogue, with much of the narrative conveyed by sounds and music.

The squeals and laughter of child’s play convey more emotion than many words, and the space left by not verbalising what is happening allows more room for emotional engagement on the part of the audience.

Grit’s great strength is the respectful way it approaches the subject matter, treating it with sincerity and gravitas, without descending into worthiness or melancholy. It is poignant and moving, but with a sense of humour and joie de vivre that keeps it from being depressing.

The set is well planned and Grit demonstrates an imaginative use of props. The multi-purpose boxes bring in an element of surprise as they become not just storage, but an integral part of the landscape of later scenes. This creative use of simple objects, as well as toys and children’s artwork, reinforces the idea that this is a child’s world.

A well-co-ordinated cast of three moved smoothly from one part to another. Particularly impressive was the choreography involved in the performers catching a range of projected images on moving sheets of card.

The puppetry is skilful, with subtle, well-observed gestures conveying a range of emotions, which makes it easy to suspend disbelief, despite the puppeteers being fully visible throughout.

One issue that does need some more consideration is the placement of parts of the set at ground level, particularly the Middle Eastern street scene where the climax of the story takes place.This was set so far forward on the stage that it was obscured by the front row of the audience for those sitting further back.

Bedlam is ideal for the performance, being intimate but not claustrophobic, but noise from the café bar towards the end of the performance was unfortunate in a show that is so meticulously soundtracked. This didn’t affect my enjoyment, but could have been better managed.

There is much for the eyes and the ears to feast on here and this is a play I would happily see again.