Touring – Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh
Gentle as the velvet of a puppy’s ear, yet unafraid to take a deadpan gawp at a recently demised goldfish, Animals, Greg Sinclair’s examination of childhood tales of animals, is a constant revelation of delight and surprise.
In a show all about animals aimed at those aged between four and nine, Sinclair has not resorted to fairy stories or nursery rhymes for his source material, nor does he trade in metaphor or symbolism. He has gone straight to his own audience, asking primary school pupils to tell him their own stories about the animals they know.
Created in collaboration with Perth Theatre, there is a strong rural background to the stories Sinclair has gathered. Sheep, cows and hens are all observed, as well as the expected domestic pets, and related in terms which swing between anthropomorphic and fatalistic. Sometimes with eye-watering reality.
One child talks of climbing a hill and seeing dead lambs with their eyes pecked out lying by a gate. It’s a harsh image which has grown-ups gasping, while Sinclair and his co-performer dancer Hannah Venet look at each other in shock that they have actually had the audacity to describe the scene.
Children though, accept it without a blink – despite the actors’ reactions which actively highlight the moment. Which is perhaps indicative of why this is such an important and clever piece of work, using a multi-media format to show a reality to those who are not yet of an age to fully understand consequence.
It is all told with a mix of dance, conversation, theatrical performance, films of the six year-olds talking about their own experiences, audio recordings and, in a particularly effective moment, Sinclair lip-synching the words of a child.
Hannah Venet’s input as a dancer is vital. While Sinclair is not without his own moves, she brings a strongly atavistic feel to the movement, as the pair take on animal personalities to illustrate the words being spoken. Many have several layers of understanding and humour, such as most supercilious cats Mini and Bentley or guinea pigs, Wiggle and Jump.
Mini and Bentley. Pic: Jassy Earl
It is hugely amusing at times, seen through the knowing eyes of a grownup. Children, however, are more focussed on the way it unfurls, taking it all in without real comment. It’s not until right towards the end, when Sinclair tells a story about his family dog which is a great swimmer – a fact they discovered when it dived into its water bowl – that the enchantment is lifted and a proper rofl moment occurs.
Katy Wilson’s design is tuned right in to the age group – benches, spots on the floor and a huge double swing are all done out in not-quite-garish green and pink. There’s plenty to look at while nothing is there merely for decoration.
This is a stage where anything can happen, but which is still safe. A fine place to explore and begin to understand animals as fellow inhabitants of our world, not the beings we invent for the stories we use to interpret that world.
A perfectly formed production, suitable for classes P1 up to about P5 – and maybe children as young as four if they are with their parents or guardians.
Running time 45 mins
Scottish Storytelling Centre, 43-45 High Street, EH1 1SR
Saturday 19 May 2018
Twice: 11am & 2.30pm.
Production website: https://animalstheshow.com/
Facebook page: @animalstheshow.
Animals on tour:
Sat 19 May
Scottish Storytelling Centre
0131 556 9579
Sun 20 May
0141 276 9696
Sat 26 May
Sun 27 May
The Usual Place
Tue 29 May
Sat 2 June
Lyth Arts Centre
Sun 3 June
Pitlochry Festival Theatre