The Warehouse, Edinburgh – 2 June 2019
World renowned immersive theatre company Punchdrunk makes its first ever foray to Scotland with a comprehensively startling piece of work, Small Wonders, as part of the Edinburgh International Children’s Festival.
The company has taken over a warehouse off Newhaven Road and inside have created their own pretty large wonder – a full size North London council flat, complete with one of those iconic balconies, a working fridge and the lifetimes detritus of its occupant, the wonderful Nanny Lacey.
There is so much detail here they could have created it as an installation at Gallery of Modern Art, except that this is a working, living breathing flat. Where Nanny has invited a crowd of kids, to look round as part of a community get-to-know you project.
This is strictly for the kids – accompanied adults only – and the Imaginate front of house staff have an easy way with them. It’s worth rocking up in plenty of time, to hang out in the big foyer in front of the lush red curtain, just to ease into the feel of the thing.
Past the curtain and along the balcony in number 17 is Nanny Lacey’s. Are you going to chap on the door or ring bell? Which ever, you are soon inside the flat with Nanny and her grownup daughter Bella fussing around, making sure everyone is comfortable, answering every question and offering cold drinks.
Nanny is a miniaturist. She takes what she calls scrapgic – scrap that’s magic – and makes from it tiny little places of the imagination. She has done all her life. They are her memories and we are there to have a peak into her past.
Nanny might be old, with a dodgy hip and going a bit batty – at least according to Bella who keeps on getting phone calls from the care home – but she has a real sparkle to her eyes.
And when Bella’s out of the room to take yet another call in private, Nanny gets down to the real business of showing off her miniatures to her latest visitors. All encapsulating memories of her past, and all with little miniature figures of herself and her daughter in them.
There’s the cottage at the end of the earth – well the beginning of the sea – the disco at Butlins when Bella was sick from eating too much ice cream, and the time they spent a week in an orange caravan.
It’s all very good, but nothing too special – at first. Liz Watts-Legg as Nanny and Mia Jerome as Bella are smooth operators, giving their audience just enough space to be inventive and spur the story on, but knowing exactly when to distract attention so they retain control of where it is going.
Which is pretty important for the narrative, but even more crucial for ensuring that all the audience – the question askers and the timid alike – are able to partake of the performance equally.
There is a real technical skill here – and the characters are complete – but the story doesn’t appear to be doing a great deal. It is exotic, maybe, to an Edinburgh audience, this North London flat with tiny models hiding amidst the old-school Spurs paraphernalia. And designer Kate Rigby has its spatial coordinates down exactly right.
Liz Watts-Legg and Mia Jerome. Pic: Stephen Dobbie
But then writer Nessah Muthy just drops the whole production down a gear and, with lighting designer Adam Foley and sound designer Salvador Garza ensuring everything is running smoothly, asks her actresses to put their foot down. Hard! So the whole thing just takes off into a different level.
It’s a wonderful thing, being an adult in an audience of children who are completely engaged with the performance in front of them. And when they are actively a part of that performance, truly immersed in it – which is Punchdrunk’s trademark – it becomes even more special.
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But what adds another layer of glitter to this already sparkling show, is that it treats its child audience with respect. So that when the big issues arise, they are not shied away from.
No doubt the directors and co-creators Tara Boland and Peter Higgin have got equally strong performances out of Érin Geraghty as Nanny Lacey and Sarah Akokhia as Bella. The four actors mix and match over the four performances a day, so who you see in the roles is pot luck.
This is Imaginate’s 30th year of children’s theatre festivals, and I have been to shows in nearly every one of them. But it is many years since I saw a show that so thoroughly took my imagination out, dusted it off, carefully sprinkled it with fairy dust – and then set it ablaze!
If you don’t have a child aged between 5 and 11 to take you to this, find one – and sharpish. Small Wonders might be playing 24 shows a week for three weeks, with tickets still available for just about every one of them, but the audience is small and those tickets are likely to get snapped up sharpish.
Running time one hour (no interval)
The Warehouse, Unit 7 Elizafield, off Newhaven Road, EH6 5PY
Tue 14 May – Sun 2 June 2019
Tue – Fri: 9.45am, 11.30am & 1.45pm; Tue, Thurs: 4.30pm; Wed, Fri: 7pm; Sat: 11.30am, 1pm, 3.30pm, 5pm, 7pm; Sun: 11am, 1pm, 3.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.
Elizafield is at the Bonnington Road end of Newhaven Road. You can drop off at the venue but there is no parking in Elizafield itself. Lothian buses 11 and 36 stop near by.
Babysitter alert! The performance is not suitable for toddlers or babes-in-arms.