Armour: A Herstory of the Scottish Bard

Book, Music & Lyrics: Shonagh Murray

Featuring works by Robert Burns

Girls sent away from their Fathers, widows sitting in the shadows of their husbands and a mistress hiding her adoration, knowing to reveal her history would ruin her – there is little wonder women fashion themselves an armour. Rabbie Burns, epitome of lyrical writing, was known to enjoy the odd lady or two. How much do you know of him outside of your school days? Better still, how much do you know about his wife Jean, and the time she sat with his Mistress Nancy for tea.

Taken from the account of Robert Burn’s granddaughter Sarah, Armour sheds light on the effects of his life after his passing. Shonagh Murray’s script captures a tremendously warming essence of Scottish history. The script adds an air of distinguished elegance to the piece while the musical numbers are poetic and memorable. There are no cop-outs with pastiche tunes, each one is originally engaging, capturing the tone of the production strikingly.

Placing trust in their sentimentality, without reliance in pander, the all-female production craft a beautifully poetic musical, underscoring a staunch feminist message. The impact of these women, crucial characters in the lives of talented men, is a story seldom told. The story of Jean Armour, the bards wife, a woman he would return to no matter the affairs, liaisons and letters to others, does not disappoint.

These roses, as delicate as their period dress may convey, are thorny in temperament. All of the cast carry their multiple parts to fruition, in particular Burn’s wife. Armour bares their flesh, opening up the soft, quivering underbelly of uncertainty and struggles of the times.

Instead of; behind every man, there is a great woman”, perhaps “behind every man, are a few tremendous women”. If that be the case, this production is a cauldron of potential, ringing of cultural splendour and hearth. Slip on your soft, dancing shoes and bask in the glory of these women, who loved, respected and tolerated ‘the bastard’ Burns.

The Adventures of Curious Ganz – Assembly Roxy

Directed by Sarah Wright

Words by Anna Maria Murphy

Puppetry offers a form to the imagination that few other mediums can capture. Benefiting from a physical dimension, it takes an edge over animation, cinema and lighting effects. It makes our dreams, our hopes, and even our nightmares, significantly tangible. The Adventures of Curious Ganz told with miniatures, string and rod puppets is an enchanting piece which delves into history, alchemy and the stars.

Curiosity is, like its sibling necessity, a catalyst of science, imagination and adventure. Glossing over the colonial aspects of exploration, Curious Ganz tells the tale of a small, nosy man who is never without his trusty magnifying glass. Setting out on the open ocean, or the deepest mines of Peru in search of something, anything, Ganz encounters a familiar royal who herself finds interest in the world beyond the River Thames.

From Queen Lizzy the First to the Duffers, and even a disgustingly adorable caterpillar, Sarah Wright’s lead set and puppet design from a team consisting of Lyndie Wright, Liz Walker, Alice King, Mae Voogd, Katie Williams & Luke Wood are exceptional. Basing their production on the life of copper smelter Joachim Gans, the ability to shift us from the universe’s beginning to the stench of old London seamlessly is a testament of their profession. Liz Walker, Avye Leventis/Nix Wood and Ailsa Dalling’s conduct a wealth of tales from their fingertips, straying from drama to comedy and into touching moments with ease.

Naturally, it wouldn’t be children’s theatre without some countermanding fear to balance the sickeningly charming characters. In his bid to stifle science and maintain his authority in the Queen’s court, the Prime Minister may have a small role but it showcases the inventiveness of the Little Angel Theatre. Defiant that the world is flat, the puppet of the Prime Minister looms over model earth, with a tiny boat heading towards the edge. As he warns of sea monsters, leviathans and beasts, enormous puppet creatures sway back and forth around him. Sharply crafting him, his features strike imposing shadows on the cold stone of the Assembly theatre.That’s the thing about ‘kid’s shows, in an audience with one child -there are many more adults- it’s evidence of our appetite for shows such as Curious Ganz.

Unfortunately, there is some incoherence with the narrative, which causes the imagination to come off the reigns. It leads to the climax feeling rushed, bombastically throwing a great deal at the audience, and when contrasted with the slow, simple opener as the universe evolves, seems heavy on visuals, and light on reserved storytelling.

Understandably, this eruption of creativity comes from a place of enthusiasm. Which is what you’ll find heaping’s off throughout Curious Ganz, passionate storytelling which stumbles on its coattails to showcase as much delightful puppetry as possible in the fifty-minute runtime. Offering a revised insight into historical discovery, with delightful puppets of all shapes and sizes, Little Angel Theatre and Silent Ride are alchemists of storytelling, spinning wood, plastic and string into gold.

Review originally published for The Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/the-adventures-of-curious-ganz/

The Man Who Planted Trees – Scottish Storytelling Centre

Written by Jean Giono

After thirteen years and with over 1,700 performances under their belts, you would think that Puppet State Theatre – the company behind The Man Who Planted Trees – would pack up their acorns and have a bit of a rest. It’s a pleasure to say that the company are still performing this astoundingly delightful show, and are bringing theatre to people of all ages with a tale that is sadly more vital than ever.

In 2019 this piece is glaringly important. Not only because of its ecological standpoint, but also due to its nuanced themes of neighbourly respect, kindness and appreciation. Adapted from the short story by Jean Gionothe show follows Elzéard Bouffier, a shepherd who single-handedly begins to re-plant 10,000 trees. He does so without seeking praise or glory – it is only Jean (and Bouffier’s dog) who realise the tremendous feat the man undertakes.

It is remarkably rare to find a production which appeals to the masses without cheap tactics, relying simply on the power of its storytelling and the raw, emotional heart of its message. It’s spectacular that so much can be communicated here with through theatrical magic, exquisite world-building and cracking humour. 

With the same puppets in use for over a decade, cherished by puppeteers and audience alike, there’s a deep warmth to this multi-sensory and engaging production. The power and importance of The Man Who Planted Trees only increases with age. It is an exquisite balance of humour, emotion, heart, war, pain and beauty. This isn’t only something to catch during the Fringe – this is something to see anytime you can.

Review originally published for The Skinny: https://www.theskinny.co.uk/festivals/edinburgh-fringe/theatre/the-man-who-planted-trees