Edinburgh International Children's Festival: Expedition Peter Pan / We Come From Far, Far Away / Baba Yaga
- Kelly Apter
- 6 June 2018
Children's Festival gives families something to talk about
Like water seeping into a sponge, you can see a different world view entering the eyes and ears of a young audience. It's in the laughter, the uninhibited proclamations, the questioning out-loud, and the wriggle of a small bottom as a beat kicks in.
But that's only half the story. Imagine being a fly on the wall of the car or bus journeys home, or at the bedsides later that night – the conversations prompted by this year's Edinburgh International Festival must be absolutely fascinating.
Because festival director, Noel Jordan didn't select shows which spoon fed or provided all the answers. Just introduced, in the most entertaining way possible, the idea that life can be viewed from more than one angle.
Expedition Peter Pan (★★★★☆), by Netherlands-based company Het Laagland, is aimed at children aged 7—12, but it's likely the grown-ups in attendance get just as much out of it (possibly more). Dressed in grey suits, and trapped in overly busy lives, five adults are appalled when toys start magically interrupting their important meetings. Marbles pop out of a woman's mouth, toy cars appear in a man's shoe, and a briefcase of important documents is stuffed with paper aeroplanes.
At first they're outraged, but an hour later – when they've turned the stage into a playground of wonder, and re-kindled their capacity for play – it's as if they've been re-born. For the adults in the audience, it's a salient reminder to make time for fun. For the children – who will most definitely recognise their stressed-out parents on stage – it's a note to encourage mum and dad to join them in their own Neverland. For everyone, it's great fun.
Fun, somehow, is also in good supply in We Come From Far, Far Away (★★★★☆) – despite its deeply troubling subject matter. NIE, a company based in England and Norway, spoke with young asylum seekers who travelled from Aleppo to Oslo alone, and heard their stories. Performed in a Mongolian yurt, the show is an amalgam of those testimonials, depicting two teenage boys who journey hundreds of miles across land and sea.
NIE doesn't shy away from the harsh realities (one of the boys drowns en-route), and yet there is a lightness which makes digesting the information not just possible, but enjoyable. The live music helps, so do the comic touches dappled throughout, and sitting in a tent is always fun – but it's the audience interaction which really wins over the young crowd.
If the ability to talk knowledgably about asylum seekers is the outcome of watching We Come From Far, Far Away, an appreciation of joyfully eccentric theatre is likely to stem from spending an hour with Shona Reppe and Christine Johnston. Reppe is well-known on the Scottish theatre scene for her witty and off-kilter shows for young audiences, while Johnston has much the same reputation in Australia. Together, they're a match made in heaven.
There are many different versions of the traditional Russian folk tale, Baba Yaga (★★★★☆) and the duo have cherry picked their favourites for this updated version. Vasilisa, the original heroine, has become Vaselina, an under-stimulated receptionist in a towerblock where the rules almost outnumber the residents. Up in the Penthouse, the eternally hungry Baba keeps encouraging Vaselina up 'for dinner' – until a moment of liberation teaches them both that there's more than one way to receive nourishment in life.
Important message of empowerment aside, Baba Yaga is a feast for the eyes in every way. Crazy costumes, video clips of distorted faces flashing up on every available surface, and the kind of dancing usually reserved for when noone's watching. Good luck explaining this one, parents.