Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Mark Fisher

Edinburgh fringe with the family: five shows for kids

Captivating … Lightning Ridge by Catherine Wheels.
Captivating … Gill Robertson in Lightning Ridge by Catherine Wheels. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/the Guardian

Lightning Ridge

Summerhall, 11.30am, until 20 August

If the idea of imaginary friends strikes you as juvenile, consider the act of theatregoing. What does an audience do if not pretend to be watching something real? And in this consummate Catherine Wheels production, playfulness and pretence are central. It is in the stones scattered across the stage to create a town. It is in the chalk circle that becomes the rim of an opal mine. And it is in the wheel spun backwards to become a racing bicycle.

Above all, it is in the story of Kellyanne Williamson, a little girl in a barren Australian mining town, whose belief in her imaginary friends, Pobby and Dingan, is absolute. As certain, in fact, as her father’s conviction he will one day dig up a valuable opal and as everyone’s hope Kellyanne will survive a fatal illness.

All of it is an act of faith, which is why it makes so much sense for the company to return to a novel – Ben Rice’s Pobby and Dingan – it last adapted in 2010. Now, instead of four actors there is one – a tremendous Gill Robertson – and her solo telling of the story, in a version by Robert Alan Evans, is necessarily an act of imagination. Captivating, funny and desperately sad, it is one of the best shows on the Edinburgh fringe.

Blooms into life … Grow. Photograph: Scottish Storytelling Centre


Scottish Storytelling Centre, 10.30am, until 27 August

Having just taken on an allotment, I am now in the target market – give or take a few decades – for Niall Moorjani’s primary coloured show about the mystery of growing things. If grasping the practicalities of digging, sowing and watering is tricky for an adult, it is tougher still for a toddler. The concept of time, the final ingredient to turn a seed into sunflower, is unfathomable.

With Diana Redgrave as our host, it becomes a little less so. We find her at an allotment, tasked with maintaining it while the owner is away. The first part is easy: checking on the plants and greeting the rabbits, frogs and bees that inhabit the space. This is an audience alive to all the senses, so we duly get to smell the lavender, rattle the seeds and, later, to dance in a celebratory party. To get us fully hands-on, the show is rounded off with an art-and-craft session.

The hardest part for Redgrave is cultivation, a process of trial and error any gardener will recognise, if not on quite such a fundamental level. The payoff to our hard work is a junior coup de theatre as the allotment blooms into life, the culmination of a simple, feelgood show.

A jolly canter … Chevalier - Hobby Horse Circus.
A jolly canter … Chevalier - Hobby Horse Circus. Photograph: Hannu Huhtamo

Chevalier – Hobby Horse Circus

Assembly George Square Studios, 12pm, until 27 August

A better name might have been Horsing Around. For fans of equine entertainment, there is horseplay aplenty in this wordless one-man family show created and performed by Kalle Lehto and presented as part of the From Start to Finnish showcase.

At heart, it is an old-school acrobatic show in which live animals are replaced by hobby horses – and a token hobby unicorn – who command more and more of the space as the show goes on. Lehto is the fall guy never quite in control of beasts who seem to have a life of their own, whether it is circling the stage in a steam train or stubbornly refusing to be corralled. Cue much laughter.

Lehto, though, has tumbling skills to compensate, going head over heels on horseback and performing standard-issue juggling on top of four horse heads. He stands on his head, spins a ball on his fingertip and has an underwater adventure with the seahorses.

Adding variety and texture are a series of films made by Lehto and Christoffer Collina in which the hobby horses go out and about on a country-to-city journey, paying homage to the age of silent movie comedy as they do so. It makes for a jolly lunchtime canter.

Roger McGough’s Money-Go-Round
Pun time … Roger McGough’s Money-Go-Round. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/the Guardian

Roger McGough’s Money-Go-Round

Assembly Rooms, 11.55am, until 21 August

In most treatments of The Wind in the Willows, the only trickle-down effect is to do with the rushing waters of the river. But in Roger McGough’s reworking of the Kenneth Grahame classic, it is to do with economics. When the upper-class Mr Toad (Gavin Fleming) books a room in the failing Treehouse hotel run by Lavender Mole (Elizabeth Robin), he pays with a large gold coin. In a previously cash-free society, she uses the money to pay off her debts.

In Jonny Danciger’s mainstream musical production, we see the same coin pass from Jan Stoat (Loretta Hope) to Basil Badger (Ben Higgins) to Walter Rat (James Dangerfield) and so on as old favours are called in. It is a lucid introduction to economics, but McGough goes further. Not only does he hint at the advantages of an old bartering system based on trust and companionship but also, thanks to the double-dealing Mr Toad, he points out the capitalist system’s vulnerability to profiteering.

If that sounds weighty, it never seems so here, with an almost through-composed score by Steve Halliwell and Walter Wray, brightly sung in musical-theatre style by a six-strong cast. A few of the songs tread water, but you are never far from a good McGough pun to keep you entertained.

Curiosity … The Way Back.
Curiosity … The Way Back. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/the Guardian

The Way Back

Summerhall, 4.20pm, until 27 August

There is no delicate way of putting this. Lee Cheng-Chun’s play is about a severed limb. More unsettling than that, it takes place on a battlefield where the combatants have been blown to pieces. Arms, legs and torsos are scattered.

I can’t speak for the children, but I’d be surprised if this show, part of the Taiwan season, didn’t give the grownups nightmares. It makes no attempt to underplay the horror of war.

The characters might be unorthodox but the production by Double Theatre tells a classic quest story. Our luckless right hand is determined to be reunited with the rest of its body so it might once again play the acoustic guitar. To do so involves communication problems, a car chase and a run-in with a nervous soldier.

Once body parts and guitar are reunited, Lee Cheng-Chun makes a comment about art triumphing over war but, after explosions and evacuations, it is a bleak way to do it. At the same time, Lee Cheng-Jui’s production is poised, precise and, mercifully, ungory. The five performers, all dressed in beige, are tightly choreographed as they play out their object-theatre story to a pre-recorded soundtrack, with toy cars carrying out army manoeuvres nearby. File under curious.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.