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Edinburgh Fringe 2023

Family Portrait

Barrowland Ballet

Genre: Children's Theatre, Dance, Film, Fringe Film, Theatre

Venue: Zoo Dovecot


Low Down

This is a video installation with four screens in a square. You begin by being drawn in as three children and mum, creep up on you. They are onscreen somewhere in the wilds of Scotland, and re on one of each of the screens surrounding you. Stealthily they are coming closer. You are sitting on a chair that swivels which is just as well, because the installation comes at you from all four sides, sometimes at the same time but often with less than the four screens functioning. And so, we see each child tell us of their family, themselves and relationships within, show their interactions and how they work with mum as well as having the four seasons in this beautiful place gone through with creative play central to the joy of their film.


I loved this. From the beginning to the end, it was simply a joy. The best review I probably could leave was the one I heard on my way in as someone, leaving the installation told staff, I didn’t want to leave. I knew by the end of it what she meant.

The overriding effect of Family Portrait is that this is a snapshot of a beautiful group of individuals who have movement and beauty in the landscape as part of their playground. It is exquisite.

The title suggests grandiosity, and here is a definition of the former, which is very worthy of the latter. The three children shine throughout as they ask us to consider nothing more than their points of view; and that makes it particularly profound. The meaning, for me, was about the value and the quality of the time spent with each other, not spent with one telling the others what to do but allowing them to “go out and get some exercise” no matter what their fears may be. It is through acknowledging those fears and working with a group of people who are on your side, that you build resilience. It is also by giving people creative opportunities that they build empathy. Here we have four empaths, sharing their emotive vulnerability and strength with us.

This is very disconcerting and at times you can become a little dizzy; but it is dizzy with wonder. Technically, the hidden heroes and heroines of this are those who wielded the camera and sound equipment. I particularly felt for them when winter arrived with a snowy blizzard. I could just imagine the fingers trying to operate fiddly bits.

Technically it is a price which is so well considered, the way in which it has been edited for presentation is part of the value it has for us as audience. We are swivelling like mad to capture all that is on offer, but we are also being given the opportunity to choose. We can duck out and lose nothing but feel we should do all we can to make sure we see it all. The beauty of the landscape has much to offer if we miss the little scamps or mum being buried once more under twigs and moss. Like a forest version of burying a parent under the sand on the beach, it is the transposing of what we see to familiar elements of our childhood or our own familial experiences that make this work so well. The familiarity is asked for, but the contempt is wavered, because we are not given anything to stop us from  delving into it.

Of course, as a man, I sat and prejudiciously considered the lack of the nuclear family and whither dad was or should be. It led me to think about the normative nature of that reaction and perhaps there was another form of family at play. And then, I decided to recognise the pressure of my own upbringing, of societal expectations and how that corrupts the view of a quality relationship in front of us. Instead of asking whether what I was seeing was good, I was asking myself to examine where it might be lacking. It left me questioning my own belief structure – and rightly so – whilst I sat back, and enjoyed not the questions, but the answers. Here were Otis, Iggie, Frieda and mum out in the fields having fun. I loved the rough play, when they dropped Freida, I need a poo poo, the work in the bath and the juxtaposition with the sledge, and the physical discourses between and by each one of my guides. This was a creative piece of absolute joy. That it left me searching for answers was again the right place to be as I questioned family and recognised that the ones that work are the ones which deserve a portrait. This one certainly fits anyone’s criteria!


Show Website

Barrowland Ballet