Nests takes Frozen Charlotte into another necessary territory (4 stars)

Review: Nests

c. Mihaela Bodlovi

Frozen Charlotte's hard-hitting but engaging new show for teenagers and adults shines a light on childhood poverty.

Justin arrives on stage on a bike, wearing a woollen hat, dirty trousers and a permanent scowl. He needs a good meal, a hot bath and, perhaps most importantly, to know that somebody cares that he's missing.

Some of this we glean simply by looking at him, and the way he shovels any morsel of food he can find into his mouth. The rest is slowly revealed as 12-year-old Justin learns to trust the stranger he happens upon in a forest, living alone in a dilapidated caravan.

The remote location serves as a constant reminder of how isolated these two characters are. Both have dropped out of a system that looked away during their moment of need. And, missing the familial relationships they once had, they strike up a father/son-style bond in the absence of the real thing.

Based in the North East of Scotland, theatre company Frozen Charlotte has become synonymous with creating quality shows for very young children. Paperbelle, Too Many Penguins, Peep – all gentle, uplifting and witty. This latest venture, written by playwright Xana Marwick, takes the company into a whole other territory – but a necessary one.

Aimed at ages 12+ and adults, Nests shines a light into a dark corner of Britain, where mental ill-health, unemployment, alcoholism, the struggles of parenting, difficulties at school and housing are a daily challenge. Those at the sharp end of this struggle, like Justin and his middle-aged pal, rarely have their stories told, reduced only to statistics and photo opportunities for posturing MPs.

Marwick doesn't shy away from these challenges, but nor does she paint her protagonists as helpless victims. Autonomy may be hard for them to hold onto, but it's there in fragments – like the smattering of humour that lightens the script.

A bold, thought-provoking glimpse into a world most of us would rather pretend doesn't exist, but can't be ignored.

Reviewed at Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh.

Nests

A frightened, starving boy and his only friend, a crow, encounter a man on the edge of society trying to forget his past. A fairy-tale for today that questions how our society treats the young and vulnerable.

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