Adam Gordon, Child's Play, Children, Edinburgh Fringe, Francois Lecomte, Greenside @ Nicolson Square, Harriet Feeny, Pleasance Zoo, Preben Rongve, Simon Armitage, Simon Armitage's Eclipse, The King's School Gloucester., Theatre Review, Tooth+Nail Theatre Company
By sheer coincidence rather than through any coordinated reviewing, the two plays that I saw today have both selected as their theme that of children’s games. No adults are put on stage in either play, other than the adults, or the young adults, who are playing the children. Both plays might unexpectedly reconnect you with long-lost memories of the overwhelming intensity of child’s play. It is good to see these plays one after the other, as I did quite by accident, and so let’s review them together.
Who is this coming up the beach? It’s Lucy Lime and she is small and sprightly, a figure of cheerful elfin malevolence. Six other children have gathered on this Cornish beach, in the August of 1999, to view the last solar eclipse of the millennium. Their parents are out of earshot, up on the cliffs overhead. These are nice kids, perhaps as amiable and decent as the Famous Five by today’s standards, but there is still a spirit of restless competition between them which never wanes. A blind kid called Midnight has to constantly keep an eye out for practical jokes. Two vain twins called Polly and Jane like being twins, because it makes them look “scary.” Glue Boy has opted out of their games by opting into one of those highs which you are supposed to get from sniffing glue.
Lucy Lime will bully each of these children one by one, in that passive, restless manner which is characteristic of their little subculture. She is increasingly a spellbinding presence, but the strength of “Eclipse” is that all of the labels that you try to stick on her won’t adhere. To begin with I had identified her as a fairy. She has the same sinister neutrality; sometimes she is kind and pleased, but a moment later and her eyes will have grown cold. Yet she is apparently a real earthly child, with parents who call the police when she goes missing. There are grounds for demoting her from a fairy to a ghost, since she tells the twins a murky story in which drowns in a canal. The other children on the beach, however, can demonstrate the same witchy acumen as Lucy, and this detracts from the unique supernatural privileges which a ghost is normally supposed to have.
The poet Simon Armitage is not mentioned in the Fringe guide advert and it is a pleasant surprise to learn that he has authored this play (it was first published back in 1997, when the eclipse in question was still in the future). Whilst “Eclipse” is indeed a verse play, it is just as distinguished by its premise, structure and characters as by its verse. There are plenty of good lines, such as when the rising sun is described as putting on its monocle, or when Lucy is entangled in the bracelets, chains and rings at the bottom of the canal. The sing-song script generally sounds like words exchanged between magpies in a nursery rhyme, giving “Eclipse” the musty quaintness of picture books from the 1950s.
So “Eclipse” is a find and a must. This is a rare opportunity to check out a very unusual play. The cast look a bit too young to be undergraduates, and so they prove. The theatre company 1541 is one of these in-house secondary school outfits which have infiltrated the Fringe, like kids trying not to be noticed in a bar, but you can certainly credit them with pulling it off. The school behind this play is the King’s School, Gloucester. “Eclipse” is an ambitious show for them to stage but the cast have the talent and professionalism to do it justice.
Up the road and around the corner from Greenside @ Nicolson Square, where “Eclipse” is currently established, and we are back at the Pleasance Zoo. Oh, but there has been a dramatic change. Since I first started reviewing in 2009, the Zoo has been one of my favourite venues and I have seen many dazzling shows here. Still, the Zoo has never been perfect. Now, however, it is perfect.
It has a bar!
I am stunned. Inside, there are no stouts or porters or dark ales. They have Blue Moon witbier, though, which I suppose can passably function as a beer. It’s a start. The Zoo is finally evolving.
Ah yes, the show. In “Parlour Games” we are living in 1927 and hanging out in an attic with four children who are anywhere and everywhere but in 1927. They have marched deep into a roleplaying game which is inspired by Gothic novels and silent cinema. The company Tooth+Nail are affiliated to Lecoq, which I gather is a kind of cult of mime artists, and so I initially think that it is remiss to judge “Parlour Games” in accordance with theatrical criteria. The long stretches of mime are accompanied by that perky, wandering piano music which used to play along to silent films. The actors’ performances are as smooth and faultless as a display of ice skating. Nonetheless, they are largely brought to life by torchlight and I think that I would have eventually lost patience with “Parlour Games” had it been performed in a pool of bare light.
But like “Eclipse,” “Parlour Games” unlocks the door to a certain childhood experience which you probably rarely think about these days: those fantasy games in which, as a child, you might have lived in completely for afternoon after afternoon. For this reason, the disruption to these games, when one of the children loses their temper, is authentically shocking. We plunged back into reality with disconcerting promptness. Entire worlds flick out like a faltering torch beam.